Appealing to emotion

Appealing to emotion

You have reached the second installment in our blog series on the three classic modes of persuasion, logos (logic), pathos (emotion), and ethos (credibility). In this blog, Jun Young dives in to pathos.


We’d like to think that most of our decisions are guided by logic, but as Aristotle observed thousands of years ago, emotions play a big role in how we think and act (which is why he included pathos as one of the three modes of persuasion). As you plan your message, make sure you’re not only appealing to people’s minds, but also their hearts.

Aristotle referred to pathos as “awakening emotion in the audience.” The idea is not to make the audience feel something, but rather, to amplify something they already feel. For example, it’s very common for advertisements today to tap into feelings of insecurity when selling products from shampoo to insurance. Political candidates (yes, I brought it up!) will harness feels of fear, pride, dissatisfaction or anger to garner votes. Charities lean heavily on passion and pity to engage donors who already resonate with the cause.

If your presentation is meant to persuade and move people, you need to go beyond sharing facts and figures. You must find ways to tap into your audience’s emotions either towards you and your proposal or against the alternative or opposing view.

Here are three things to consider when using pathos:

What are they feeling?

Be aware of the range of emotions your audience might be feeling. In simple terms, is the audience mad, sad, glad, or afraid? For a bit more granularity, use Robert Plutchik’s eight basic emotions:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Joy
  • Disgust (feeling something’s wrong or dirty)
  • Trust
  • Anticipation
  • Surprise

Determine which of these emotions might be helpful in promoting your cause. What is your audience feeling? To whom is their emotion directed? Why do they feel this way? For instance, if you’re proposing a new program at work, you could tap into the disgust (and maybe even anger) people feel towards the current state.

Tell the Story in an Emotional Way

Use stories, metaphors, vivid language, visuals, and other persuasive tools to create an emotional experience with your audience. Choose words that evoke feeling rather than just facts. Show visuals that tug at the heart and not just the brain. If appropriate, share your personal stories and show your audience that this is something that you are personally connected to.

Show Your Own Passion

Connecting emotionally goes beyond your message, use your voice, facial expressions, and body language to convey sincerity and passion. Your audience has to see that you too are feeling these emotions. As Theodor Roosevelt wisely noted, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

If you rely on just logic and facts to persuade your audience, you’ll likely fall short of your objectives. Think about how people are feeling. Walk in their shoes. Consider their emotional landscape and find ways to connect with them in this place. If your audience is emotionally engaged with you, they are more likely to listen to you, consider your claims, and take action.

When used together, logos, pathos, and ethos make for a strong persuasive argument. Always remember to include each in your next big appeal. And stay tuned for the final installment in this blog series, Logos!


Jun Young

Principal |