Writing a persuasive speech – Aristotle style

Ancient Greece Ruins

Ancient Greece Ruins

I had to have a long and painful call with a call centre operator to persuade them to restore my Internet connection in my new home so that I could start blogging again. As a result, I thought I would make my first post back all about the very beginnings of persuasion in public speaking and how they can help us as speakers today.

In 350bc Aristotle wrote the ‘Art of Rhetoric’ – the first (known) book on the topic of public speaking. In it he formed a theory of persuasive public speaking that holds true to this day.

The best thing about Aristotle’s theory is that he formed it simply by observing others speak. No science, no men in white coats, just simply watching the opinion and thought leaders of the time. And by opinion leaders we don’t just mean the emperors and the generals, but those who captured hearts and minds preaching in their local tavern, employment or marketplace too – the everyday man.

So what is this theory and how can it be applied to our speeches today?

Aristotle’s theory of persuasive speaking states that a persuasive argument is formed by three core elements – ethos, pathos and logos.

Ethos – is the persuading of our audience that we are a nice, well-informed person with their best interests at heart.

Pathos – is an emotional appeal to our audience about why they should share our opinion or come around to our way of thinking.

Logos – is cold, hard evidence – the facts, about why our audience should adopt our point of view.

Aristotle wrote that all successful persuasive speakers used these three elements in their speeches to change the opinions of their audience. I can see the logic behind this theory, but when I first came across it I struggled to believe that a modern, cynical audience might be able to be ‘talked around’ using such simple tactics.

So then I started looking for the three pillars that Aristotle had identified in every persuasive speech that I heard. Guess what? They are always there. They may appear different as they are always dressed in the speaker’s natural presentation style, but they are there.

So how can you use Aristotle’s theory in your impromptu or prepared speech?

Of course it depends on your speech objectives and your delivery style, but ethos, pathos and logos can be used to form an easy-to-use structure for your persuasive speech. Check out the example below if you are struggling for inspiration or a point to start from with your own persuasive speech, it should give you the framework that you need to build your speech around.

Introduction (ethos) – introduce yourself and why you are qualified to speak on this subject (it might be your occupation, your passion or simply something that you have researched thoroughly).

Why this is important (pathos) – explain why the issue is important to you and why it should be important to your audience. If you are an advanced speaker or writer you may present arguments here that produce a persuasive emotion in your audience, such as guilt, anger or fear.

Who else says this is important (logos) – provide evidence of someone equally as qualified as you (or more qualified) agreeing with your point of view. This might take the form of research findings, statistics or a great quote.

Conclude – in the usual way – leave your audience thinking and with a strong call to action about what you want them to do next!

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Rich Watts is the UK Business Speaker of the Year and a past JCI National Public Speaking champion. He setup and now runs Rich Public Speaking providing presentation skills and public speaking training.

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