Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

My friend and colleague, Jonti McLaren, turned 40 two weekends ago. At his birthday party in Palo Alto, I had an educational conversation there about a theory Aristotle developed about how to connect to and persuade an audience. The discussion took place with an old time friend, Larry Hagquist, and Jonti’s wife’s high school mentor, named Gene. Both are high school teachers, and coach programs that require public speaking skills.

Larry coaches Poetry Out Loud, where teens compete in spoken poetry. He sent me some links of his students on You Tube . This is not slam poetry, with it’s oscillating vocals that reminisces of rap music (of which, some I quite like). Instead, this is clearly spoken classic poetry meant to enrapt the audience in the message. He also coaches the school’s debate team.

Gene coaches Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), an organization to mentor teens in becoming future business leaders. High school teams engage in service opportunities, attend leadership conferences, and compete in local, state, and national events.

Neither had met each other before. What they explained to me is such common knowledge in speaking and argument creation that they were able to explain it to me co-creatively, without missing a beat. Developed by Aristotle, the idea is to capture an audience, you must appeal to their ethos, pathos and logos.

Ethos is in the realm of ethics. The idea is that you have to show up to your audience as someone who has authority on the topic to which you speak. Why should your opinion count? Pathos is in the realm of passion. You have to syntonize with your audience’s emotion. If the people to whom you are speaking are not engaged emotionally, they will not be able to relate to what you are saying. Logos is in the realm of logic. If your argument is not reasonable, it will not rule the day.

For me, it’s like saying you have to show up, connect to your audience, and make sense. For any given situation, there are specifics in these three realms to be aware of and to exercise. It also seems there are ways to exercise in these three areas, even if not creating a specific presentation or argument.

For ethos, I can practice being in my personal standing. Confidence and clarity in purpose, not to say that I need to be clear about all the detailed steps I take every day, but clear in my purpose for the day, my purpose for this life. I can practice pathos in my close relationships – connecting to my loved ones at an emotional level. And logos I can practice in my ability to solve problems logically and reasonably in my day-to-day life and work.

I recognize it’s not that simple, but it’s a good start, I think, and I would like to know what anyone else thinks about the matter.

2 thoughts on “Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

    1. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch word:
      syntonize (third-person singular simple present syntonizes, present participle syntonizing, simple past and past participle syntonized)
      (electronics) To adjust two electronic circuits or devices to operate on the same frequency. (From wiktionary)

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