Ethos, Pathos, and Logos: The Foundations of Persuasion
April 20, 2018 by Rachel Harner

Public speaking is definitely not a new practice. Our current persuasive methodology has been tested, worked through, and edited over the course of the 2,300 years since its inception. Aristotle, a founding father of persuasion and public speaking, coined the terms “ethos,” “pathos,” and “logos” in On Rhetoric to explain why good persuasive speeches are effective and how persuasion works.

Although they sound like complicated Greek words, the ideas behind ethos, pathos, and logos are fairly simple to understand. In order to create a persuasive argument for an audience, you must satisfy these three areas:

  1. Ethos – Aristotle first defined the word ethos as being “trustworthy.” People are much more likely to believe people who have/exhibit good character or are similar to us. If the audience really trusts your, then they expect that you are telling the truth. We measure the ethos of a speaker in four main characteristics: similarity, trustworthiness, authority, and expertise. You audience must be able to view you as a credible source before they accept anything you say.
  2. Pathos – Emotions are some of the most powerful motivators for your audience. The word “pathos” is derived from the Greek word for “experience” or “suffering,” but we use it to define the emotional experience that you share with your audience. Many different emotions can be conjured during your presentation to create a strong connection, including love, sympathy, outrage, fear, and envy. One of the best ways to do this is by sharing a story with the goal of creating a triggered emotional response from the audience.
  3. Logos – The word “logic” in English is derived from the Greek term “logos.” It is often used to mean logical reasoning or when an argument is based on reasoning. While you are presenting, your audience is trying to reason your ideas and understand the counterarguments with their deductive and inductive reasoning skills. In fact, they are doing it before, during, and after you speak. The logic of your argument is influenced and strengthened by things like data, facts, statistics, and research.

Many people often ask which of these three aspects are the most important to feature in their speech. The answer to this question is that they are all significant and a truly persuasive presentation does include all three elements - but the balance of them is dependent upon your subject matter.

Generally, it is thought that there is no such thing as too much ethos (or credibility) in a presentation. Keep in mind that logos and pathos should be adjusted depending on the audience and subject.