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Excellence is not an act, but a habit. If that sounds like the kind of glib phrase you’d read on the back of a 90s self-help book – firstly, you’re right, but secondly, it’s much older than that. 2300-odd years older. Aristotle - the Greek philosopher, in case you know more than one Aristotle - said it and he was right, which is why we’re still hearing about it now. He was right about a lot of things, and not just captions for inspirational posters. One thing he was really on the money about was influence and persuasiveness.
Aristotle was interested in the techniques of rhetoric: how to speak persuasively and convincingly. He felt it would be an advantage to every person to learn these skills and optimise their ability to effectively communicate. We’ve really followed his lead in the two thousand years since. It’s lit, fam.
Aristotle believed that spoken influence could be better understood by splitting it into three categories. He called them pillars, because they hold up the argument, and because not much else had been invented back then. If he had been around when scaffolding or cranes or forklifts were invented, he might have had a wider frame of reference to draw from. But he wasn’t, so instead of the Three Forklifts, here are the Three Pillars of Persuasion.
Including all three elements should give you the best shot at being influential which is, of course, your main task. If you’re not wanting your audience to do, think or feel something different as a result of your encounter, then you’d have to ask why you’re doing it at all.
Aristotle himself didn’t always manage to persuade. He discovered the hectocotylus, the reproductive tentacle of the octopus, but no one believed him about it until the 19th Century. He should have written something moving or funny about it to be more persuasive, although he may have felt that kind of joke writes itself. Facts therefore, don’t necessarily convince. Business encounters are frequently high in Logos, because businesses deal in facts and figures. But relying totally on Logos can be boring and unengaging, meaning that people zone out and miss crucial messages, or, worst case, actively start avoiding you. And presentations that rely on Logos aren’t persuasive, meaning that proposals and pitches fail to inspire action. What can we do about it?
Let’s look at some simple elements of Pathos and how you can incorporate them into your communications without it feeling like you’ve staged an ancient Greek tragedy in the middle of Last Quarter’s reports.
Analogies and Metaphor: these illustrate a point by creating a visual image. A Pillar of Persuasion is a metaphor: without really being conscious of it we immediately get the idea that the pillars are supporting the persuasion. Aristotle was already manipulating us in the title of his own idea.
Anecdotes, stories and quotes: well-chosen anecdotes, particularly if they’re personal, make you more likeable, and you’re far more likely to be persuasive if your audience likes you. Relevant and poignant stories are often the most memorable parts of an encounter, a sure-fire way to make an emotional connection with the audience. Quotes align you with the admired or revered figure who originally said them, which is why this article starts with a quote.
Emotive visual aids: Well-chosen images can reinforce your message and provoke a powerful emotional reaction. Brain science unavailable to Aristotle tells us that people are amazing at remembering images, long after words have been forgotten. If only he’d been a painter.
These are just a few of the rhetorical techniques you can use without imposing on your audience. You’ll enhance their enjoyment of the encounter and increase your chance at influencing the outcome. You don’t even have to wear a toga.
So that was the Three Pillars of Persuasion and some of the many ways to incorporate them into your communications. We can assure you of one thing: the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. Guess how we know? Right. Aristotle said so. The Pickering Group can show you how to step into the warm, persuasive glow of your spotlight. Enhance your public speaking with our courses and 1-2-1 coaching, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for practical, inspiring content, or read more of our tips and tricks here.
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