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Executive Presence and the Art of Rhetoric

The ancient Greeks knew all about Mental Presence. 2000 years ago Aristotle said rhetoric was “the art of seeing the available means of persuasion.” He focused on public speaking or oration and he carefully laid out how to create the most persuasive, most powerful speech. There are multiple types of rhetoric according to Aristotle: Judicial rhetoric (arguing the facts), Epideictic rhetoric (demonstrating something), or Deliberative rhetoric (painting a picture of the future). There won’t be a test, but it’s good to know where this wisdom comes from.

Rather than focusing on the past or the present, Deliberative rhetoric focuses on the future. It’s the rhetoric of providing a vision of a positive or negative future - for example when an activist gives an impassioned speech about what will happen to the environment if we don’t clean up our act and change our attitudes towards pollution, or when a politician paints a picture of a better society if they get your vote.

What makes for good Deliberative rhetoric? According to our 2000 year old friend Aristotle, it’s three things:

  • Ethos

  • Logos

  • Pathos

These three things enable us to create a deliberate change of opinion, a deliberate commitment to action, or a deliberate decision through our powers of persuasion.

Ethos is how you convince an audience that you are trustworthy and credible. This can come from using your background and status, your charisma or charm, or even unspoken body language demonstrating your confidence. (Somatic Presence, anyone?)

Logos is how we use our logic and reason to structure sound persuasive speech. This can include using data, statistics, facts, analogies and examples. It’s the structure and content of the speech itself, and effective Logos is clear and understandable. It means we set up a strong argument. Logos is all about Mental Presence!

The main dimension of the information, argumentation, and structure is a verbal one, thus the speaker has to express these categories as simply, clearly, and explicitly as possible that the audience can follow his reasoning.

Pathos is the appeal to emotion. Pathos rallies people to emotional states. This can be a positive state, like our leader Kathy Hamburger who makes people feel optimistic and capable, or it can be negative. Think of the powerful beauty industry and the advertising directed at women to purchase products to make them more youthful, thinner, or prettier. The emotion they evoke in those ads is often that of fear, shame, or lack, and that set of negative emotions is a powerful driver to purchase products that might alleviate those negative feelings.

The key to effective rhetoric is to internalize those three elements and structure your communication accordingly. For those of us that need to get our message across, there’s nothing better than thinking through these three areas together and coming up with a structured approach. Over time, we start to think this way naturally and integrate rhetoric into our communication on a regular basis unconsciously.

Excerpted with permission from Executive Presence by Karlin Sloan. You can purchase the full book on amazon here: https://www.amazon.com.au/Executive-Presence-Drive-Impact-Influential/dp/1087859506


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