Rhetorically Speaking

personal development stoicism storytelling Jun 07, 2021
image of a woman with a megaphone to support a bog post about persuasion and influence

In the ancient western world, the art of persuasion and influence was taught through rhetoric and was most often employed in political discourse and philosophical debate. Today we still see rhetoric used in marketing and mass media.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, developed three types of rhetorical appeals:

  • Logos - appealing through facts and stats
  • Ethos - appealing through the character and credibility of the speaker
  • Pathos - appealing through emotion and empathy

As change agents, thinking about the rules of ancient rhetoric can help you become better storytellers. Rhetoric can inform and inspire more effective messages that connect the right people with your cause. 

While rhetoric and storytelling share the goal of influencing change, the approaches of each are very different. Where rhetoric is intellectual and instructional, storytelling is inquiring and invitational. Rhetoric tells and stories show.

But what happens if we incorporate both approaches? What would that look like?

Storytelling that weaves in rhetorical tools is like a stool with logic, character, and emotion as the three legs. Rely only on one or two of these, and the stool will fall over, and your story will fall short. Relying too much on anyone over the others, the stool, and your story will be wobbly.

For instance, relying exclusively on the features and benefits (logos) of your offer makes it too easy to compare to alternatives that cost less time, money, or energy. Leaning too much on your status (ethos) can also lead to unhelpful comparisons or backfire if things don't unfold as planned and hurt your reputation. Leveraging strong emotional response (pathos) lends itself too easily to manipulation.

Instead, what happens if you rely on sound reasoning and thoughtful examples (logic), prove yourself trustworthy and values-driven (ethos), and create healthy emotional tension (ethos) that leads to worthwhile action? How might that make your story more compelling and convincing?


Scott Perry, Difference-Maker Coach at Creative on Purpose

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