Old school persuasion

Old school persuasion

Presentations can do many things. They can educate, entertain, and celebrate. But perhaps the most important thing they can do is persuade your audience to see things your way.

The classic model of persuasive rhetoric started way back with Aristotle. He proposed three modes; logos (logic), pathos (emotion), and ethos (credibility). Once you know them it’s hard not to see them everywhere, and you can usually find all three at once—a good idea.

Today we are kicking off a series of blogs where we will break them each down one by one, then wrap things up in the end by showing them in action. To kick things off, our own Kelsey Frause will dive in to ethos!


Today we’ll dive into ethos, which focuses on using the speaker’s credibility to persuade.

Credibility can be gained in a number of ways, but basically the speaker has to convince their audience that they are qualified to speak to the subject matter. Perhaps they are a college professor or a published author on the subject at hand. Or another established authority has given them their recommendation. It can come in many forms.

But, most often we confer this credibility within minutes of meeting someone. So without taking the time to examine the speaker’s bona fides, how do we make that snap judgment? In an ideal world every speaker is credible, but all ethos actually requires is that the speaker appears credible.

Does the speaker seem to be competent? Well-intentioned? Empathetic? They may be, but if the audience doesn’t see it that way then, practically speaking, they aren’t.

It’s all about how the speaker portrays themselves. There are vocal elements – such as the tone and pitch a speaker uses. If a speaker seems uncertain, they lose credibility. There are non-verbal signifiers – good posture, steady hands, even clothing choice and personal grooming. Done right, they build credibility.

So how do you harness ethos to persuade?

The first step is to identify your situation and audience. Trying to persuade a 3-year-old to eat their dinner is quite different from the things that happen in a business setting. For our purposes, we’ll assume the latter.

Let’s start with body language. First, check your posture. You should be standing tall with your shoulders back, yet natural for an assured, open posture.

Now focus on your face. As funny as you might feel, practice in front of a mirror. You want to go for an easy, open expression. Avoid scrunching your eyebrows or focusing on smiling. A warm, but neutral, expression won’t betray your nerves with a false-seeming or misplaced smile.

Then look down at your hands. They shouldn’t be stiff at your sides, crossed in front, or even stuffed in your pockets. Find a comfortable position that appears natural, and gives you opportunity to easily use gestures to drive your point home.

Finally, personal appearance. There’s much that can be said on how to dress or (for women) apply makeup. The easiest rule to follow though, is to wear clothes that are neat, well fitting, and clean so you appear professional, yet comfortable. And always aim to be slightly more polished than your audience so your inner confidence will be sure to shine through.

So remember, you only have a few minutes to convince the audience that you know what you are talking about and can be trusted. I hope these techniques can help in that regard. Of course, it works best when combined with the other two points on the persuasion triangle, logos and pathos. Stay tuned for our next installment to learn more!

team Zum