Rhetoric by Aristotle

Parthenon in Athens Greece

Storytelling BC

Whenever we hear or read a story we tap into our complex humanity in an equally complex way as we decide whether the argument, message, or storyline as presented is very convincing, whether it truly resonates with us.

In the 4th century BC Aristotle studied orators of the day, who were mainly politicians and lawyers, to discern which practices and techniques made for a compelling speech.

His treatise Rhetoric is considered by many scholars to be the most important text written on the topic. Although the practice of public speaking is quite different today in many ways, the principles that Aristotle identified still ring true.

Male Female Statues at Fountain

Book I: Chapter 2

Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds.

The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos];

the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos];

the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos].

Is the speaker authentic? How does the audience feel about the topic? What do they think about it, do they believe?

Black and White Sculpture

Three Pillars of Rhetoric

Ethos – the intent of the storyteller is to be accepted by the audience as credible and having good intentions. Does the audience believe in the storyteller, are you trustworthy?

Pathos – it’s tapping into your audience from an emotional standpoint. Will your message, in some fundamental way, be heartfelt and in alignment with their values, beliefs or morals? If not, it’s a difficult task to win them over.

Logos – Is there logic behind the argument being made? Does the narrative, with its supporting facts and figures, make sense from an intellectual perspective when your presentation concludes?

Getting others to understand your message will require all three.