In presenting to any audience, whether it's a client group or your own executives, your goal is to persuade them:
• that you know what you're talking about;
• that your approach/recommendation/proposal is worth considering;
• that they should do what you're asking them to do.
Persuasion, defined as the process of influencing attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, can facilitate anything from a slight shift to a major change in outlook and actions. The Greek philosopher Aristotle put forth the notion that there are three available means of persuasion: ethos, logos and pathos. As valid today as they were over two thousand years ago, these methods, known as "Aristotle's Appeals," can make your presentations more compelling to your audience.
Methods of Persuasion
• Ethos, Greek for "character," relies on the authority, credibility or expertise of the speaker to persuade. A medical doctor as the TV spokesperson for an OTC drug persuades through ethos. Or an announcement from the chief meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, urging people to evacuate an area because of an impending storm, is heeded because of its inherent ethos.
In the business presentation, a subject matter expert exudes ethos. Think Bill Gates talking about the digital revolution or Seth Godin about marketing. However, overusing this persuasion technique happens all too frequently. Don't let speaker credentials and title or rank substitute for crafting a truly persuasive argument. Ultimately, it will be the audience who determines ethos.
• Logos, Greek for "word," uses logic, reason, statistics, polls and facts to persuade. It is harder to take the opposite point of view to an argument which uses logos because the data seems so incontrovertible. This is not, however, a data dump of facts or statistics; rather it is selective data that elegantly support and further your position. The marketing presentation using consumer research data to support introduction of a new product is logos. The case for evolution uses logos persuasion by employing scientific evidence.
• Pathos, Greek for "experience" or "suffering," persuades by appealing to emotion and imagination. This is probably the least used approach in business presentations because we've been taught to be factual and concrete. But there is power in connecting with an audience through the heart. Pathos is using stories, vivid language and passionate delivery to make your message more personal and compelling, moving the audience to identify with your point of view.
Use More Than One Method
The best presentations will incorporate more than one method of persuasion. Logos can enhance ethos by adding some substance to the credentials. Pathos can enhance logos by making the material more alive and relevant.
Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" is a brilliant example of incorporating all three persuasion methods to drive home his message: the ethos of the highly credible Vice President; the logos of mounds of relevant graphs, statistics and logical arguments; the pathos of animals losing their habitat.
As you work to persuade your audience to consider and adopt your point-of-view, you are asking for their involvement and commitment. In addition to utilizing ethos, logos and pathos, here are some key principles to ensure your delivery is as persuasive as your argument.
Understand What's in It for Them
Understanding what is important to your audience—what they're feeling about your topic, where are the roadblocks for them, what knowledge/experience do they already have with your topic, do they have the motivation, power and ability to do what you’re asking of them—will guide you in choosing the most appropriate persuasion method for each segment of your presentation.
Look Them in the Eye
How persuasive do you think it is to read PowerPoint slides? Or notes? Or to gaze somewhere above the audience’s heads? Not very. Connect with them through direct eye contact so they have another way of reading your passion and authenticity besides your words. Strong eye contact creates the feeling that you are having a conversation with audience members and that makes it more intimate and personal.
This is your final chance to cement your message, make the audience care and call them to action. Don't let your close fade away by asking if there are any questions or thanking the audience for their time. Close with powerful language—a quote, a statistic, a story—and make it clear to your audience what you want them to do.
Incorporate these persuasion methods as a powerful way to move your audience to embrace your message. Aristotle no doubt would have agreed with 19th century British politician and essayist, Thomas Macaulay who said, "The object of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion."
Editor's Note: Whether you're conducting a one-on-one interview, motivating your sales team or delivering a keynote address, your success as a leader is defined by your ability to persuade with clarity and passion. Read "Principles of Persuasion" at www.salesandmarketingmanagement.com.
Kathy Reiffenstein is the founder and president of And…Now Presenting!, a Washington, D.C. area business communications consulting and training firm, where she draws on her background in sales, marketing and customer service to create confident, persuasive speakers. She works with business executives, authors, non-profit leaders and the military to help them speak clearly, effectively and compellingly to their audiences. Visit www.andnowpresenting.us for useful presentation tips and resources. Stop by Kathy's blog for fresh insights on presenting that are engaging, sometimes irreverent and always practical.