About 2300 years ago, Aristotle wrote down the secrets to being a powerful speaker. These same secrets have formed the basis for nearly every public speaking book or training program written since then.
Aristotle identified the three keys as ethos, pathos, and logos. We know these now as ‘the rhetorical triangle’ or the ‘three pillars’ of public speaking.
• Ethos is the credibility (or character) of the speaker. You are plausible because of who you are, your position, background, or what you know.
• Pathos is the emotional connection to the audience. With their emotions engaged people are motivated to follow or agree with you.
• Logos is the logical argument – or content. This is where reason, facts, examples and evidence play their part in supporting what you have to say.
Together, they are the three essential qualities that will make your speech or presentation appeal to your audience and accept your message.
Three basic types
Public speaking is always to inform, persuade, or entertain. Usually it’s a combination of all three, and it’s the blend between these different approaches that you get to play with and use creatively. Different types of speeches have different types of content, but you will find that you need to have all three types mixed in there somewhere, if you are going to do well.
One thing you should decide early on, is which of the Aristotle’s three elements will dominate. If for example, you are an expert on something, when you speak on that subject you are basing your presentation on ethos. (note however that the presentation itself may be laden with logos – facts and information logically presented). Perhaps you belong to a certain group and by speaking in public you help raise money for this group. That’s ethos. When you tell your kids “Because I say so!” that’s ethos.
Motivational speakers, politicians and sales people depend heavily on pathos. When you leave a presentation feeling inspired, galvanised, changed, ready to act or to buy something, your emotions have been engaged. It’s the key to all successful ‘sales’, whether you’re selling an idea, a product , a policy or yourself.
Logos is going to dominate when the primary aim is to transfer information. Professional and business settings, teaching, lectures , conference papers and certain professional interchanges (pilot to cabin crew, surgeon to theatre nurse, client to broker, client to lawyer), require you to convey clear, well structured, logical information without much else.
Looked at a different way, you need to consider whether you want your speech to be primarily informative, persuasive or entertaining. The ‘ingredients’ in the ‘recipe’ will change accordingly.