- In addition to pathos (the appeal to emotion), and logos (logical arguments), Aristotle believed that good character, or ethos, was one of the three main pillars of persuasive speech. This is because no matter how well-reasoned or logical an argument is, it won’t matter if the audience doesn’t trust the person making it. In his now-famous TED Talk on reforming the criminal justice system, Human Rights Attorney Bryan Stevenson opens not with a list of degrees he’s earned or prestigious awards he’s won, but by saying: “I spend most of my time in jails, in prisons, on death row. I spend most of my time in very low-income communities in the projects and places where there’s a great deal of hopelessness.” This information is far more important to listeners who don’t know who he is, or why they should trust what he’s saying.
- When it comes to being persuasive, it’s important to show people that you can provide a real solution to a problem. To do that effectively, you have to listen to your audience to really understand what they need and how you can help.
- When making a point persuasively, Aristotle said that an argument should be expressed “as compactly and in as few words as possible.” Aristotle also observed that the first thing you say is the most important, since “attention slackens everywhere else rather than at the beginning.” In other words, open strong, since that’s when your audience is the most captive.
- Tell a story. The key is to create connections between what your audience is thinking, what they already believe, and what you want them to believe. Layer in facts that will add credibility, using either yourself or someone you know. As for picking a story, a good rule of thumb is that the most personal content is the most relatable. As TED curator Chris Anderson put it, “The stories that can generate the best connection are stories about you personally or about people close to you. Tales of failure, awkwardness, misfortune, danger or disaster, told authentically, hastens deep engagement.”
- Be confident. In order for others to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. It may sound hokey, but it’s true. Think about it: Are you more likely to believe in someone who appears anxious or unsure, or someone who speaks with authority? When you speak, people begin to make decisions as a result of the way you communicate. To project confidence, speak calmly and in clear, straightforward sentences. The goal isn’t to sound like a robot, but a competent person who’s prepared and informed. Try to avoid filler adjectives such as “like,” “uh,” and “you know.”