The Art of Rhetoric

The ancient techniques of rhetoric remain very useful to the modern public speaker, and many of our most famous orators put them in to practice every time they address an audience.

Sometimes the prospect of facing an audience can be more than a little daunting; they may not believe what you have to say, they may not agree with your argument, they may not warm to your personality, you may collapse in a heap of nerves.

These are fears with which any presenter must contend. The best way to contend with all these presentation doubts is by having a few techniques to fall back on, guaranteeing you a certain level of performance.

The Three Rhetorical Musketeers

If you create your speech using the three rhetorical musketeers, you’ll definitely have the content you require to make an impact.

Musketeer 1 – Ethos

Ethos can best be summed up by the phrase ‘we’re all in this together,’ which, you’re probably aware, has been overused over the last couple of years.

Ethos is the establishing of common ground with your audience, setting up the current shared world as you see it and placing yourself and the audience in the middle of that world view. For example, if the purpose of your speech is to persuade people to recycle, we all need to inhabit a world in which too much waste is produced and resources are finite; if we don’t agree on this then the aim of the speech has no meaning.

Always look to establish a strong ethos from the outset.

Musketeer 2 – Logos

Logos appeals to the rational mind.

Once you have established your ethos, you need to back it up with a strong rationale. Your argument and position must make sense in the minds of the listeners. A confused logic, or reasoning, will lose your audience in a second.

Focussing on your rationale is a vital part of your persuasive pitch; you must set out the events and facts which have lead to the current situation and sufficient evidence supporting your proposed path from this point.

Musketeer 3 – Pathos

Pathos goes straight to the heart of the matter.

Facts on their own are not necessarily motivating; they need to be backed up with emotional impulse. Emotions make movement; we are moved by stories and events. To make your audience really move you need to have an element of emotional appeal in your speech.

This can be achieved through anecdote, case study, personal detail or painting a vision of a possible future.

Bigger Picture / Smaller Picture

By using the three musketeers you will naturally begin to move between the inspirational bigger picture informing your speech, and the detail needed to convince the audience that this picture can become a reality.

The Rule of 3

This simple trick is widely used, once you know about it you’ll notice everywhere.

It clarifies, reinforces and emphasises.

Consider your key message or messages and find a way to communicate them in an emphatic three word phrase.

Remember Tony Blair’s ‘Education, education, education’? It certainly wouldn’t have had the same impact if he had simply said, ‘Education’.

Structure your most important sentences using the Rule of 3, and you can be sure your message will hit home.

End Well

Whether you build to a climax, end with a cliff hanger or pose a final provocative question; don’t leave the end of you presentation to chance.

Remember: it is the final note of your speech, it is the last and lasting memory the audience will have of you, it has the power to make or break you presentation.

Whatever you do with the ending, do something meaningful; avoid petering out at all costs!

With these few rhetorical tools in your speech making toolkit, you’re sure to have the technique you need to make your speech, pitch or presentation coherent, powerful and, above all, convincing.

David Windle