Communication, Rhetoric, and History

One of the things that History has taught us is that there are few life-skills as important as developed speaking skills. Speaking, a formal speech or address, has been the single greatest tool in motivating troops before war or battle, providing an outlet for grief during times of mourning, and quieting the rioting masses.

We have the Ancient Greeks and Romans like Aspasia of Miletus (the mother of Rhetoric), Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian to thank for laying the foundation of what we see today in public political participation.

On November 19th, 1863 Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg address at the consecration of the National Cemetery. Against the backdrop of the memory of fallen soldiers, and at the site of one of the bloodiest Civil War battles, President Lincoln delivered a 2-minute, 273-word speech.

In 273 words, President Abraham Lincoln highlighted the fundamental principles of the Declaration of Independence which created these United States, and the principles of human equality. He solidified wavering Union resolve and rallied his Union army in a time when morale was dropping.

On November 13th, 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst stood up in Hartford, Connecticut to deliver a lengthy speech that would be remembered by proponents of the suffrage movement for generations.

After September 11, 2001 President George W. Bush took to the podium to inform a panicking nation that he’d implemented “emergency response plans,” and that a “search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts.” He put a calm face in front of frazzled nerves to persuade his country to remain calm, even though he didn’t actually say those words specifically.

History is full of public speeches of note rallying troops, stirring up sentiment, or just plain stirring the pot. In every situation from Pericles Funeral Oration of 427 BCE to President Trump’s most recent trip to the podium, public speaking has served the purpose of delivering information, telling stories, and motivating people to act in some way or combination of ways for centuries.

The best public speakers, be they Presidents, Generals, middle management, Entrepreneurs, Mothers, Children trying to persuade their parents to let them stay out late, or employees pitching new business ideas to their bosses, the most effective public speech deliveries rely on one or any combination of three basic strategies.

Aristotle broke down rhetoric, the art of effective expression and the persuasive use of language, down into:

  • Ethos

  • Logos

  • Pathos

Ethos

To be an effective orator, the speaker –you- must be credible. To achieve credibility with your audience, you have to display competence, empathy, and good intention.

Logos

The content and arguments made in your speech or presentation should have a component of logic. This usually is achieved by using verifiable and correct facts, and figures, and referring to studies or experiments without twisting the content to suit your own needs. Lying about or falsifying facts will not only destroy your Logos, but your Ethos as well.

Pathos

Pathos is used to get your audience to connect to your persuasion, message, or entertainment in an emotional way. This is where you pull on the heart strings of your audience to allow them to empathize with your content or purpose; you get them to laugh about something relevant to the topic at hand; or gat your audience to engage with you personally by addressing your audience with questions they can respond to.

Emmeline Pankhurst deployed Ethos and Pathos most prominently in her speech to Hartford Connecticut by using the fact that the British government kept imprisoning her for demanding, rather than politely asking for, the right to vote.

President Abraham Lincoln leaned on Logos and Pathos when he delivered his Gettysburg address by appealing to the emotional connection Union soldiers will have still felt for their fallen comrades, and by allowing the location of his speech to connect them as well.

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