Knowing the three means of persuasion will make you a more persuasive man.
Welcome back to our ongoing series on classical rhetoric. Today we’ll cover the three means of persuasion as set forth by Aristotle in The Art of Rhetoric. According to Aristotle, a speaker or writer has three ways to persuade his audience:
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; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.
Below we cover the basics of the three means of persuasion and offer a few suggestions on how to implement them into your rhetorical arsenal. And because this aspect of rhetoric is so meaty, I’ve also included suggestions for further reading for those who wish to learn more about each element (I’ll provide a reading list for exploring the subject of rhetoric as a whole in the last post of the series).
Ready to get started? Let’s go!
Ethos: The Appeal to the Speaker’s or Writer’s Character or Reputation
If you wish to persuade, you need to establish credibility and authority with your audience. A man may have the most logical and well-thought-out argument, but if his audience doesn’t think he’s trustworthy or even worth listening to, all his reasoning will be for naught.
For Aristotle, a speaker’s ethos consists of appearing knowledgeable about the topic he’s speaking about and being a man of good character. Aristotle and Cicero thought that a speaker could only appeal to his ethos within the speech itself and that an orator should spend the first part of his speech establishing his credibility. The classical rhetorician Isocrates believed that developing one’s ethos and credibility with the audience began even before the speaker opened his mouth. Audiences naturally approach speakers and writers with some suspicion, so they’ll look to his past for evidence that he is trustworthy and knowledgeable about what he’s speaking or writing about.
A speaker or writer can use ethos in several ways. First, you can simply begin your speech or text by referring to your expertise on the subject. Share how long you’ve studied the subject, mention how many articles you’ve published and where you published them, and refer to awards or recognition you’ve received in relation to the subject at hand.
A nuanced way to establish credibility and rapport with your audience is to downplay your accomplishments. People don’t like a braggart or one-upper. In some cases, having a highfalutin resume might hinder people from trusting you. A bit of modesty can go a long way to getting the audience to trust and like you, and consequently, be persuaded by what you have to say.
Another powerful way to establish ethos with your audience is to find common ground with them. Human beings are social animals. We have a tendency to trust others that are like us (or at least appear like us). You can establish common ground by acknowledging shared values or beliefs. You can establish common ground by simply recognizing a shared history. You see this all the time with presidential candidates. They’ll visit a state they have no immediate connection to, but they’ll find some story from their distant past that connects them to the state. Maybe their great-great-grandfather passed through the area in a covered wagon. That commonality, however slight or silly it may be, helps the audience feel connected to the speaker, and, consequently, makes him more trustworthy…..