06 Sep 16 / Blog

Ethos, pathos and logos in a TED talk

As public speaking partners to TEDxStormont, we’ve been lucky enough to hear talks from a variety of innovative and creative speakers. .  We’ve heard about everything from innovation (David Meade), women in science (Jocelyn Bell Burnell), and the power of relationships (ACC Stephen Martin).  We think there are lessons for us all in the way TED speakers prepare their talks. Aristotle talked about the three artistic proofs of ethos, pathos and logos when composing a persuasive public speech. Hundreds of years later his advice still rings true. When faced with a blank page, our TED speakers can draw on the these three artistic proofs to build up their talk from scratch.

Ethos – Your own credibility and character

ethos Lord Alderdice TEDx Speaker
Lord Alderdice

What references can you use in your speech to reinforce your credibility as an authority on the topic that you’re discussing? Lord Alderdice references his medical training and uses medical analogies to build the case for a kinder, more tolerant society. Fergus Cumiskey references his work over a period of many years with young people in the care system before talking about suicide prevention. Or watch Therese Charles tell her self-deprecating story in the case she makes for the space between failure and success.

Logos – your arguments or reasoning

Cheylene Murphy, TEDx Speaker ethos pathos logos
Cheylene Murphy

Can you provide examples that back up your central claim? Watch Jarek Zasadzinski argue the case for a formula for success. Cheylene Murphy invokes the power of storytelling to build the case for collaboration and opening up. Or how about the top down logic of Deirdre Heenan’s appeal to the need for a focus arts and creativity in educational policy? John Sturrock uses language and metaphor to point us towards solutions for social polarisation.

Pathos – your audience

Rachel Smith TEDx Speaker ethos pathos logos
Rachel Smith

An audience is defined by their interest in your topic and their ability to mediate change. Can you appeal to your audience’s needs and values to make a persuasive case? WIIFM – What’s in it for me? If you can tap into emotions to make your case, then you’re well on the way to making a connection with your audience. Rachel Smith talks about her work with people at the end of their lives. She makes an eloquent case for valuing what’s important. And we love Joris Minne’s passionate appeal to his audience for valuing the arts in a time of straitened funding and competing priorities. When used well, pathos creates a connection that helps the audience to feel the same emotions as the speaker.

When you’re faced with a blank page the next time you’re asked to give a talk or a presentation, we hope that some of these great speakers can inspire you. Ethos, pathos and logos were first advocated by Aristotle over 2,000 years ago. As these speakers demonstrate, the three artistic proofs still hold true today.