Search

Rhetoric - The Ancient Power of Persuasion




I think you’ll agree with me when I say that everyone wants to improve the power of their persuasiveness. Especially if you’re getting up in front of others to give a presentation or speech, we want to impact and influence the audience. Whether you’re trying to get an important client to sign a valuable new deal, persuading your 4 year old to go to bed on time, or getting a difficult employee to improve their work ethic. We all want the results that come from the power to persuade. If you are a public speaker, or if public speaking is part of your job, then learning the ancient secret behind the power to persuade will increase your persuade 10x.


The Ancient Greeks used the power of rhetoric to persuade. The tools of rhetoric are rarely taught these days, but they are often used. You will find them spoken by some of the most famous politicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs and sports people around the world.


DISCOVER AN ANCIENT SECRET

“There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion. The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions–that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited.”

ARISTOTLE


The Greek philosopher, orator and all round smart thinker Aristotle understood how to use the power of rhetoric to persuade. In Ancient Greece, a lot of matters were settled by the use of debating.


Aristotle understood that you could persuade people using three simple means combined:

  • LOGOS – The application of Logic – Facts and Logical Reasoning

  • ETHOS – The reassurance of Credibility – Trust

  • PATHOS – The influence of Emotion – Emotive Stories


LOGOS (LOGIC) FOR PERSUASION (FACTS & REASON)

Let’s see how former Let’s see how former President Barack Obama uses LOGIC/LOGOS to influence us in his speech to the American people about why he took military action against Syria for flouting the ban on chemical weapons.


“Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.”

BARACK OBAMA

Let’s break that down into the facts:

“Let me explain why. If we fail to act, (1) the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, (2) other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, (3) our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And (4) it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.”

BARACK OBAMA

“Let me explain why.” – An explanation, an immediate call to logic. He’s going to explain it for us.


“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.”


Here we can see that Obama keeps on using logic:


If we don’t do THIS then THIS will happen.


And then Obama lists FOUR consequences of failing to act.

  1. Assad will have no reason to stop using the chemical weapons.

  2. Other tyrants will get poison gas and use it.

  3. Our troops/our family members will face chemical weapons on the battlefield

  4. Terrorist groups will find it easier to use these weapons against the public.

Obama has used simple logic to show us why action must be taken, because if we don’t, then there will be serious consequences. He has done this on purpose by using LOGOS in his speech


ETHOS (CREDIBILITY) FOR PERSUASION (TRUST)

“That’s my judgment as Commander-in-Chief. But I’m also the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress. And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.”

BARACK OBAMA

In this example, Obama uses a call to trust him. He evokes his credibility. He is the elected President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy – unlike Syria. And he is saying that you can trust him for that reason.


He points out that he has the AUTHORITY (given to him by the people) to order military strikes.


He points out that CONGRESS supports him – which means that he is operating in a truly democratic manner.


So in this example, he strongly leans on his credibility, by emphasising his authority that the American people gave him when they voted for him, but that he also acts with the support of CONGRESS too.


He later says that America is the ‘anchor of global security’ – more trust, more credibility.


Obama’s speech writer is an expert at evoking ETHOS as a way of telling us that the President is a man who acts with the credibility of the seal of the President of the United States of America, he acts with the authority of that position and with the support of congress because America has always been the ‘anchor of global security.’


A conscious use of ETHOS to persuade the American people (and the world) that he had the authority, credibility and trust to do this.


PATHOS (EMOTION) FOR PERSUASION (STORIES)

Take a look at how President Barack Obama uses EMOTION/PATHOS to influence us.

“The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk”.

BARACK OBAMA

Now take a look at the imagery he used in this speech to evoke emotion in the listener.

“The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk“.


We have the evocative emotional reaction to “gassed to death over a thousand people.”


That immediately makes me HATE Assad.


“Including hundreds of children” – now as a father, I think anything you do to Assad is justified.


“Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath.” The image of dead bodies, the picture of foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath – in other words – imagined as if they are dying right in front of us.


The final image of the “father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk”. You can see that father WILLING his DEAD CHILDREN to get up and walk again.


We are as Obama said “sickened” by this.


But we are sickened on purpose, because Obama’s speech writer has used the powers of PATHOS, the emotional persuasion tool.


TRIPLE WHAMMY OF LOGOS, ETHOS AND PATHOS.

Below is the CNN recording of the speech that President Obama gave on taking action against Syria for flouting the ban on chemical weapons. You can read the whole thing here.

You will first see him use PATHOS, then LOGOS and finally ETHOS to make a powerful persuasive impact on his intended audience.


Mark Westbrook

Public Speaking Coach