A 2,000-year-old equation for persuasion

This man has quite a bit of amazing advice for anyone tasked with persuasion—whether to ancient audiences or in the midst of the digital age.

This man has quite a bit of amazing advice for anyone tasked with persuasion—whether to ancient audiences or in the midst of the digital age.

More than two millennia ago, Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle was a busy man. A prolific writer and one of the ancient world’s most profound thinkers, he delved into biology, zoology, metaphysics, ethics, poetry, theater, music, politics and linguistics—to name several of his studies. In his teens, he was a student of Plato and later became the personal teacher to Alexander the Great. Even his name, “Aristotle,” has depth… it means “the best purpose.”

Most scholars consider Aristotle as history’s first true scientist, and he set the first foundation of stones that would later tower into Western philosophy. We owe a lot of our thinking, laws, culture and way of life to this solitary, incredible man.

Aristotle also had sweeping things to say about persuasion. He outlined his thoughts and system on how to move the masses in his book, On Rhetoric. In it, he outlined three “must haves” to be truly persuasive. Follow his wise and timeless advice, and you’ll win over just about anyone.

1. Speak with logic

Aristotle calls this first element of persuasion “logos” or “logic.” He urges us to have our facts in order and to tell the truth from our perspective. In modern parlance, he would have us do our homework, cite credible sources and research our points.

I like to call this having meat or substance. For great examples, just look to TED talks. You have compelling speakers, fascinating topics and great visuals, but when you think about the talks later, you realize how many facts are packed in those 18-minute presentations. They’re expressed in such a compelling way that you hardly realize how academic many of them really are.

2. Speak to the heart

All facts and no emotion make Johnny a dull Vulcan. It’s emotion—or what Aristotle calls “pathos”—that makes your message compelling and memorable. Pathos is a great way to start your message or presentation—it’s your grabber! You’ve seen it a million times: Great speakers who start with a funny story or some sort of appeal. I’ve written a lot about emotion in marketing before.

There is a line, however.

Take pathos too far, and you could create the opposite effect of what you want—like draining people, distracting them from the facts, or worse, turning them off. Aristotle recommends that our pathos complement our logos.

3. Speak with authority

The final element, “ethos,” means to have credibility. Share your experience and history on the subject… align your opinion with experts in the field… and bring your qualifications to light. Good quality, compelling “logos” (our first persuasion point) can help solidify your ethos, too.

For Aristotle, persuasion was really a demonstration. He understood that most of us become convinced when something is clearly shown to us. So the job of a speaker or presenter (or in our case, marketer!), as this illustrious scholar saw it, is to bring that demonstration to life with fascinating facts, powerful emotion and authoritative, confident delivery.

Aristotle’s advice may have been written many centuries ago, but it’s just as relevant today as it was when the Parthenon stood, in its full glory and majesty, over Athens and the dawn of Western civilization.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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