You need to use emotion to persuade. Nine ways you can create a connection with your audience using the second mode of persuasion: pathos.
This is the third article in a four-part in a series on Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion.
In a two horse race, emotion, not reason, wins the race. Emotion defines debates — those who make the most emotionally persuasive argument win.
Global warming deniers rely on emotion to persuade people for two reasons: there are few facts to support their argument, and they know that appeals to emotion are more persuasive. Progressives often express frustration at how conservatives are misleading people. They attempt to counter them with facts. It rarely works.
The goal in appealing to emotion is to create a connection with your audience that makes them receptive to your message. If you can do that your audience is more likely to:
- understand where you are coming from;
- accept your views; and
- take the course of action you suggest.
So how do we appeal to emotion?
The seven emotions you can evoke
Aristotle suggests there are seven emotions and their opposites that you can tap into:
- anger and calmness;
- friendship and enmity;
- fear and confidence;
- shame and shamelessness;
- kindness and unkindness;
- pity and indignation;
- envy and emulation.
Theorists have suggested other emotions. What matters is your understanding of the emotions that the people in your audience are pre-disposed to. To help you do that you need to know the answers to three questions:
- what is their state of mind?
- to whom is their emotion directed?
- why do they feel that way?
It is not enough to know the answer to one or two of these questions. Know the answers to all three questions and you will know how to get them from where they are to where you want them to be.
Consider the following scenario. You are a political candidate and have been asked to speak to a group of advocates working on homelessness. Despite promises from the government to build more affordable housing, more people are living on the streets, in shelters, and staying with friends. Your goal is to persuade your audience that you will be their champion.
By considering the three questions you might decide that you need to evoke anger in the audience. Anger at the situation and towards the government. Anger because nothing has been done.
Let’s alter that scenario. Instead of a political candidate you are an advocate and about to meet with a representative of the government. It’s unlikely you will be able to evoke anger in someone from the government if they are not doing enough. You might look at the three questions and find that pity is the best emotion to appeal to. Pity is a pejorative term these days, but consider its synonyms: empathy and compassion. If you can make the representative of the government empathize with people sleeping rough, you may be able to persuade him or her to prioritize solutions that address the problem.
Pathos contributes to ethos
The three modes of persuasion often work in concert with each other. If you are able to make a strong emotional connection with your audience, it shows good will. This is one of three things that Aristotle suggests builds your authority and credibility as a speaker.
Nine ways you can create an emotional connection
1. Be human
Remove the metaphorical barriers between you and your audience. If you’re famous, do something to show you’re like anybody else. If you’re disliked, show the audience your likeable side. If people think you’re aloof, do something to warm them up.
2. Be authentic
Don’t put on an act for your audience. If your audience suspects you are not genuine or that you are toying with their emotions you lose ethos.
3. Use the right frame
Consider the difference between speeches on “how much carbon is too much carbon” and “creating jobs and opportunities for people in a clean energy economy”. They could be two different frames on exactly the same topic: moving away from fossil fuels. I know which speech I would prefer to hear.
4. Tell a story
- easily shared; and
- inspire action.
Personal stories can have enormous cut through. We are hardwired for stories. You could tell a story of your own, the story of someone you know, or a fable.
Because we are hardwired for stories we drop our guard when we hear them. That can help you create connections with others. That connection provides a way into your broader message.
5. Use metaphor
The first big roar of applause in Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech comes three minutes in. He drew this applause using a banking metaphor:
Instead of honoring this sacred obligation,
America has given the Negro people a bad check,
A check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.
We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.
It’s an amazing piece of oratory.
Like stories, metaphors can make a speech interesting and memorable. Aristotle said, “Metaphor, moreover, gives style clearness, charm, and distinction as nothing else can … ”
Everyday conversations are filled with metaphors. They are an essential part of the way we communicate. They help us learn, discover, and shape our view of the world.
Words alone might not be enough. Support your speech with photos or video.
7. Get the delivery right
It’s important that your tone, volume, and speed of delivery matches the moment. Mike Johnston, a State Senator in Colorado, provides an excellent example of finding the right delivery when he recalls the stories Tasha, Jermaine, and Flavio. I recommend watching the speech, but stories begin at 10m 39s.
8. Words matter
Some words work better than others. Have a thesaurus handy and be ready to swap words that don’t pack enough punch, or pack too much punch. Do you want to say:
- pain or agony?
- stuck or mired?
- sad or devastated?
- amazing or magical?
- happy or elated?
Consider this list of power words to punch up your writing.
9. Use rhetorical devices
In addition to metaphor, there are thousands of rhetorical devices at your disposal. Some examples:
- Antimetabole: I, too, was born in the slum. But just because you’re born in the slum does not mean the slum is born in you, and you can rise above it if your mind is made up. — Jesse Jackson
- Enumeratio: It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied… It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold… It is a violation of human rights when women are doused … — Hillary Clinton
- Epistrophe: …this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. — Abraham Lincoln.
Start by learning four or five rhetorical devices. And don’t forget the power of three.
Don’t overdo it
There are situations in which you will want to dial back the appeal to emotion.
If you’re asked to give evidence in a Senate enquiry you may have to concentrate on logical arguments (logos) and impress them with your good character (ethos). If you’re a CEO reporting back to your board using pathos you may be seen as elusive. It comes back to authenticity — you must maintain your credibility and authority as a speaker. Know your audience.
Pathos — a path to persuasion
Don’t rely on facts and figures to persuade your audience. You need emotion to persuade. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and understand where they are coming from. If you can make an emotional connection you’re on the path to persuasion. That’s how you get them from where they are to where you want them to be.
Next week I will publish the last piece in this series on persuasion: logos (appeals to logic and reason).
There are two books I recommend reading. The first is Richard Toye’s Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction. It’s a short, simple exploration of rhetoric. If that whets your appetite Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric will take you on a deep dive into rhetoric and the modes of persuasion. I’ve sampled a few translations; I found the Dover Thrift version to be the easiest to read. Further reading: