The Art of Rhetoric, written in the fourth century BCE, is a practical guide on public speaking and persuading. The Art of Rhetoric, published about 2,500 years ago, is still considered one of the most incisive and thorough dissertations on rhetoric ever written.
About the author
Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher who wrote extensively on physics, biology, logic, ethics, linguistics, and politics, among other subjects. He is largely regarded as one of history’s first true scientists, and his writings aided in the establishment of entirely new fields of research. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who studied at Plato’s Academy in Athens before becoming Alexander the Great’s tutor and subsequently founded his own school, the Lyceum, in Athens.
Rhetoric is the art of enhancing a situation’s persuasive potential:
Aristotle authored the Art of Rhetoric in the city of Athens during the classical era of ancient Greece. Athens was a democratically managed city-state during this time. Every Athenian citizen was expected to attend public meetings and vote and represent oneself in legal affairs.
The study of talking properly became a topic of significant public concern in Athens because public speaking was so deeply ingrained in the culture. This period saw a plethora of publications and teachers claiming to teach the art of public speaking to the average person. Aristotle was one of them.
He understood that each speech needed a different rhetorical style – after all, you wouldn’t give the same address to urge troops for combat as you would fight for lower taxes. Nonetheless, all kinds of rhetoric have the same goal: to persuade your audience.
According to Aristotle, there are just three primary ways of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos, regardless of the type of speech you’re giving.
The goal of ethos is to make your listeners think of you as a more authoritative speaker. Pathos is the art of evoking emotions in your audience to sway their opinion. Finally, using reason and argument to demonstrate your point of view is what logos are all about. Logos, according to Aristotle, is the most compelling of the three.
Before Aristotle, however, writers on rhetoric tended to emphasize pathos or emotional argumentation. Their manuals were full of tips on how to persuade a jury to pity you so that your sentence may be commuted. To these authors, rhetoric was nothing more than the art of manipulating people with words.
Aristotle repaired rhetoric’s lousy reputation by emphasizing the importance of truth and virtue. He claimed that truth and morality are naturally compelling. And it’s understandable; if you want people to believe you’re a reliable source of information, you have to pay attention to the facts.
Rhetoric, according to Aristotle, is more than merely the art of manipulation. It’s the art of taking advantage of the realities of a situation.
If you adjust your character to your audience, you’ll appear more credible:
Consider yourself as a general about to lead an army into combat. Which of your counselors, a seasoned veteran or someone who has never seen a war before, would you be more likely to listen to? Is it a trustworthy buddy or someone you believe is vying for your job?
These questions have apparent solutions. Why? Because how you see a speaker influences your willingness to be persuaded by them; mainly, you are more inclined to believe someone you judge to be knowledgeable and trustworthy.
That means it’s to your best advantage as a speaker to make your audience think of you as knowledgeable and trustworthy. The first mode of persuasion — Ethos, or character – is based on this premise.
Focusing on how you show yourself, in general, is the first basic approach to making an audience see you in a positive light. To that purpose, Aristotle lists three crucial characteristics that audiences seek: intelligence, personal character, and kindness. If you wish to appear trustworthy, you should check all three of these options.
Having these traits is, of course, the simplest way to communicate them. You don’t have to transform into an entirely different person to improve your appearance. The most crucial thing you can do before writing your speech is to research the subject adequately. Knowing the material will ensure that you avoid hemming and hawing and instead come across as someone who knows what they’re talking about.
Another thing to consider is how you convey your emotions. According to Aristotle, a speaker’s character is demonstrated through expressing the appropriate feelings in the proper time. But be careful not to go overboard, or you’ll come across as phony.
The second technique to improve your audience’s perception of you is to tailor your communication style to each individual. After all, how you speak to a group of young individuals differs significantly from speaking to a group of senior people.
Given their heated, passionate temperaments and desire to carry things to the extreme, Aristotle believes that emotional and contentious language works best on young audiences. Elderly listeners, on the other hand, are more receptive to dignified language and cautious, balanced points of view.
You can sway people’s opinions by stirring their emotions:
Pathos, which is the Greek word for passion or emotion, is the following way of persuasion. In ancient Greece, it was well understood that how an audience feels impacts their judgment. This is most evident in the courts of law. You can bet that if a defendant’s crime angers a jury, the gavel will not fall in her favor.
On the other hand, if the jurors can be persuaded to feel sorry for her, she might be able to get away with it. So, if a defendant is a skilled rhetorician, she could be able to sway the jury’s emotions in her favor and achieve a more favorable result. This is true whether she is genuinely guilty or not, so Aristotle lamented the frequency with which speakers use this strategy. He claimed that the effectiveness of pathos is because audiences aren’t wholly rational. As a result, speakers must be aware of the effects of emotions and know how to leverage them to their advantage.
While emotions can make it difficult to think clearly, they aren’t wholly unreasonable. The causes are usually pretty predictable. It’s merely a matter of invoking the excellent reason to elicit the desired emotion once you’ve learned which causes trigger various emotions.
Consider the emotion of rage. According to Aristotle, rage is an ambivalent emotion that mixes the anguish of being wrong with the pleasure of anticipating retaliation. He finds that we are prone to feeling enraged when someone purposely insults, belittles, or mocks us and does not demonstrate regret.
With this information, a savvy prosecutor may conceivably invite the jurors to rage. He’d have to establish that the jury members or their values were insulted and that the defendant’s behavior didn’t represent the appropriate level of sorrow.
The same can be said for any other emotion. Awareness of impending danger or pain causes fear. Knowing this, you can instill dread in your audience by alerting them to a potential threat. Pity is felt when we believe someone is suffering unjustly. So, to elicit sympathy, you must claim that you are suffering unjustly.
Discover the cause of whatever emotion you wish to elicit, and you’ve cracked the code.
Using logical reasons, you can influence people’s thinking:
Rhetoricians can use Aristotle’s favorite form of persuasion, Logos, or reasoned argument, as their third way of influence.
This kind of persuasion provides the facts and then argues for a particular verdict or course of action using sound reasoning. This should be the most successful kind of persuasion as long as your audience is at least slightly sensible. Who could argue with a logically undeniable conclusion?
According to Aristotle, there are essentially two ways to offer arguments. You can argue either implicitly by providing examples or overtly by formulating logical ideas, which Aristotle refers to as enthymemes.
The enthymeme is at the heart of Aristotle’s rhetorical theory. Let’s look at an illustration. Assume you’re a worried citizen speaking to a crowd about an impending invasion. You could make the following argument: A neighboring power is assembling an army on our border; it is most likely planning to invade us; so, we must quickly create our army before it is too late.
This is an enthymeme in action. We started with a couple of well-known premises and worked our way to a logical conclusion. What sets enthymemes apart from other types of deductive arguments, such as those found in a philosophical treatise, is that their findings are only possibly actual, not accurate. To put it another way, we can’t know for sure whether or not our neighbors will invade us, but it’s a legitimate assumption to make based on probability.
As a result, the enthymeme isn’t particularly noteworthy. In truth, most people make probabilistic arguments in their daily lives, and the way you argue in speeches should be no different.
Enthymemes can be sufficient in and of themselves if they are simple, but they often require a little additional explanation. This is where examples can help.
Consider the following argument: A ruler demands a personal guard; rulers who have been granted a private guard in the past have attempted to take absolute power and become dictators. As a result, we must politely decline this request.
This is also an enthymeme, but it’s more powerful because it proves its conclusion with historical precedent.
Because reasoning is essential to this type of persuasion, a logic and argument education would benefit the aspiring orator.
When giving a speech, the most important thing to remember is to talk clearly and naturally:
Aside from the three types of persuasion – ethos, pathos, and logos – two other factors influence the persuasiveness of a speech. These are the elements of style and delivery.
Only the facts would matter if Aristotle had his way. However, audiences often pay more attention to a speech’s attractiveness than its content. The same speech delivered by a bland and frightened speaker will have significantly less impact than one provided by a colorful and confident speaker.
This demonstrates how public speaking is a sort of performance. And this is what sets rhetoric apart from other forms of art.
The principal value of good style, according to Aristotle, is transparency. That’s because being understood is a form of persuasion in and of itself.
In general, aim for aesthetic simplicity when writing. Being concise, using proper syntax, and avoiding unclear wording are all examples of this. A weak argument is usually marked by vague and ambiguous language.
Of course, a few poetic flourishes here and there might liven up an otherwise dull speech – but don’t go overboard with fancy language to the point that your audience loses track of what you’re saying. Metaphor is Aristotle’s preferred poetic approach for helping your audience visualize the message you’re conveying. But be cautious: an ill-chosen metaphor could send the exact opposite message. If you described the dawn sky as rosy-fingered, you’d conjure up a lovely and healthy image. When it’s described as red-fingered, however, the connotation becomes far more sinister.
It’s crucial to think about delivery as well as design. As Aristotle puts it, it’s not so much what you say as it is how you say it.
Good delivery requires clarity; you should always enunciate your words and use suitable pauses between phrases. It’s also crucial to speak naturally. If a speech were delivered in a monotone, it would sound dreadful. Simultaneously, it would be challenging to take a speaker seriously if she spoke in poetry as if she were reciting a poem. Instead, your sole goal should be to imitate natural speech rhythms.
Persuasive speaking is natural. Contrived and artificial-sounding speech, on the other hand, is the polar opposite.
Every speech should follow a four-part logical framework:
Only two things, according to Aristotle, are genuinely crucial when it comes to structuring a successful speech: presenting your point and proving it. A short introduction and conclusion, on the other hand, might be valuable for longer presentations since they can assist listeners in orienting themselves. Your speech should include no more than four sections: an introduction, a statement, a proof, and a conclusion.
The purpose of an introduction is to express what your speech will be about. It should establish the tone, pique curiosity, and explain why the subject is significant. This is a beautiful spot to begin employing ethos by displaying your personality. When the Greek dramatist Sophocles was accused of a crime, he opened his defense by emphasizing his age and fragility. He got the audience to see him as a victim of misfortune rather than a perpetrator from the start.
Then it’s time to tell your story of what happened. Narratives that go on for too long might be challenging to follow, so be careful and include just the details that are relevant to your main argument. Because narratives appeal to emotions significantly more than ideas, this is the portion where pathos is most beneficial.
It’s time to provide your arguments after the narrative part. Here’s where logos come in handy. The purpose of this piece is to substantiate the assertions you made in the narrative section of your speech and reject any arguments presented by your opponent, if necessary.
After you’ve presented your case, a brief conclusion, especially if your speech was lengthy, may be helpful. The conclusion’s primary purpose is to summarize your argument’s essential points and underline why yours is superior to your opponent’s. Given that this is your final chance to win your audience over, it’s a good idea to close on an emotional high note that leaves them feeling good about you.
Finally, the conclusion of your speech should be concise and to the point. The practice of asyndeton, which implies removing the conjunctions in a sentence, is a popular approach to end a speech. Aristotle, for example, finished his lectures on rhetoric by saying, “I’ve stated my case, you’ve heard the facts, now judge.”