Tag Archives: ethos

They Key to Credibility is…

Empathy! Yep, that’s right–not credentials, expertise, title, or extensive research. The key to achieving strong credibility with your audience is to empathize with them. Why is this? Because, empathizing with the audience helps speakers achieve the type of true credibility Aristotle describes in Rhetoric:

“We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. . . his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.” Aristotle, Rhetoric

True credibility comes from a person who is “good,” a person of good character. Empathy, the ability to become your audience’s needs, wants, values, fears, and desires, is key to conveying good character. A presenter who can empathize with his or her audience is truthful–no one likes to be lied to; a presenter who is empathetic conveys his or her expertise–he or she knows her audience will trust a presenter who is wise an experienced; a presenter who can empathize will focus on shared values and goodwill–no subject is one-sided, all perspectives matter; and finally, an presenter who is empathetic has a good reputation–no one will believe a speaker whose reputation is questionable or whose intentions are self-centered.

Achieving each of these qualities: truthfulness, expertise, goodwill, and reputation requires empathy. But, how do we work to truly become empathetic speakers and humans? The RSA and their RSA Animates and RSA Shorts series provides a good starting point. According to Jeremy Rifkin, empathy begins at birth. We are empathetic creatures, driven by our soft-wiring by the “drive to belong” (Source). Empathy is what leads us to not only be aware of our own mortality but also be aware that others are mortal and fragile.

Dr. Brene Brown adds depth to this definition in her RSA Animates short, created by amazing animator Katy Davis (find her at Gobblyne).

For Brown, empathy is what “fuels connection,” the very thing that we are trying to achieve through credibility in the first place–connection from one human to another, connection that helps us bridge divides and conquer opposition. Further, empathy is a conscious process each presenter must engage in. It is a process characterized by perspective taking, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotion in others, and then communicating that emotion. Our job as presenters is to make the world better for our audiences, and “what makes something better is connection” (Source). Credibility isn’t about credentials, expertise, or experience. It’s about showing the audience you are a good person–empathy is the key to achieving this goal!

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Are your communication habits killing your credibility?

In studying the three modes of persuasion, ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic and evidence, we learn that strong persuasion is about creating a balance between these three essentials to effective rhetoric, the art of persuading others.

Rhetoric is a balance of three modes. Think of it as an equilateral triangle.

Rhetoric is a balance of three modes. Think of it as an equilateral triangle.

While the dominant mode may change depending on the speaking context, and while many disagree on which mode of persuasion is truly the most important, it cannot be denied that an imbalance between these three can negatively affect your audience’s reception of your message. Too much pathos and the audience may feel manipulated, too much logos and the audience is disconnected from the humanity of the topic. What happens when we don’t tend to ethos or credibility though?

According to the article “8 Conversational Habits that Kill Credibility” by Geoffrey James, credibility often comes down not to dress or decorum but language (also definitely the realm of logos and pathos). What we say can either show we are credible, trustworthy, and have the audience’s best interest in mind, or leave our audience feeling we are biased, pompous, or untrustworthy. So, what are the 8 habits you need to avoid to build strong credibility?

1. Avoid Shop Talk

Jargon may make you feel better and you’ll assume your audience sees you as a knowledgable fount of information and wisdom, your audience is over business speak. A colleague recently expressed his disgust at the word “followship” used as a replacement for “leadership”. Why do we need to redefine leadership as anything but what it is?

2. Avoid Overused “Truisms”

The cliche “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” was awesome…100 years ago. Now, it’s an instant sign to your audience that they should stop listening to you because you are out of touch at best or lazy at worst.

3. Avoid Fancy Language

Verbose diatribes infrequently engage participatory assemblages… in other words, the bigger the words you use, the less likely that your audience will listen to or retain your message. Keep it simple!

4. Avoid Verbal Fillers

Non-fluencies like “um” or “uh” can be difficult to filter out, particularly because they are part of our conversational structure, so from my perspective a random uh or um won’t necessarily kill your credibility. However, when they become so frequent that they are noticeable or when those fillers include words such as “like” or “basically”, they communicate to your audience that you are not confident in your message or ideas.

5. Avoid Statements as Questions

James calls these “upticks”. When one raises the pitch at the end of what should be a statement and phrases it instead as a question. This one is a subtle credibility killer. The raising of your voice can communicate a lack of confidence in your ideas and message. Much of our credibility comes from an ability to phrase ideas assertively and with confidence.

6. Avoid Doublespeak

The term doublespeak was first introduced in George Orwell’s 1984. Doublespeak is language that deliberately seeks to distort and confuse meaning. The purpose is to often make difficult truths more palatable (aka, lying by omission). James refers to these as weasel words–no one trusts a weasel. One of the biggest challenges of strong persuasion is presenting ideas as they are, no matter how ugly or difficult.

7. Avoid Blaming your Audience

Placing blame on the audience by way of a “fake apology” (I’m sorry you didn’t get the point) is disingenuous . It also shows a lack of empathy for your audience, a definite necessity of a credible speaker.

8. Avoid Useless Information

Often times, when we don’t know what we are talking about, we rely on information overload–a barrage of mostly useless (to the audience) information that works to actually increase anxiety in most speakers. Focus on audience relevance and audience centeredness to ensure your information is useful.

What is your biggest credibility pet peeve? Take the poll and compare your results to other readers. 

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Tweak Your Speech: Rhetoric and Star Trek

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This week in Professional Communication and Presentation, we discussed the basics of rhetoric and persuasion. I don’t really fall too far from the rhetorical tree Aristotle and Cicero developed hundreds of years ago (with the exception of including Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification), partly because my class is only a month long and the three part structure of Aristotle’s appeals works well in this time frame, and partly because I want to impart on my students a very important truth: For the ancients, oration was a skill and art form that surpassed others–communication had immediate impact on the lives of Greek and Roman citizens, they tended to a presentation ecosystem before we’d heard of such a thing.

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This cultivation of strong speech continued through much of human history–imagine Martin Luther King writing up his “I Have a Dream” speech and sending it by mail (much less impacting that way, no?). In recent times though, the study of oration has been diluted, to the point that we devote little time to considering how we structure our messages or how our audience will process and carry on our message. We devote even less time to studying the mechanism of persuasion and analysis of how others structure a successful message. However, in order to really practice and engage in persuasion, we must first understand how it works.

I will share with you a metaphor that helped me understand how rhetoric and the means of persuasion (ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic) work. An argument is like the Starship Enterprise, flagship of the United Federation of Planets. The Enterprise is THE ship on which to serve. Its reputation is stellar, its technology state of the art, and its crew stalwart and brave.  Your persuasive message is the Enterprise–it is a well-oiled machine, ready to take on any adversary, set to explore the dimensions of the human universe.

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But, the Enterprise would be nothing without three figures (the original series would not be what it is without the interplay between these three)– Leonard “Bones” McCoy, chief medical officer; Spock of Vulcan, first officer, and James T. Kirk, captain. It is the dynamic between these three individuals that drives the show, provides the excitement, drama, and relevance. Without Bones, Kirk, and Spock, the Enterprise would be a wasteland of red-shirted crewment, doomed to die during the next away mission. In the same way, your presentation cannot function without the seamless interplay between ethos, pathos, and logos.

Bones: Ethos or the credibility appeal

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Bones is the moral and ethical compass of this trio. He often protests Spock’s logic-driven decisions and tempers Kirk’s instinct-driven responses. Like Bones, ethos is all about authority. It is how your audience judges you. An audience should be able to determine if a speaker is trustworthy and reputable, knowledgeable, authoritative, and empathetic. A strong presenter develops ethos both through internal sources and external sources. Your external credibility illustrates knowledge and trustworthiness; internal credibility helps illustrate authority, reputation, and common ground or empathy.

External sources of credibility include experts, case studies, information from media sources, and data.

External sources of credibility include experts, case studies, information from media sources, and data.

 

Internal credibility includes personal experience (want to know about skydiving? ask a skydiver.), shared values with your audience, reputation, and demeanor or behavior during a presentation.

Internal credibility includes personal experience (want to know about skydiving? ask a skydiver.), shared values with your audience, reputation, and demeanor or behavior during a presentation.

 

Spock: Logos or the logical appeal

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Spock, half Vulcan, half human, made the decision as a child to embrace logic and repress emotion. His decisions are based on precise calculations, the data available, and analysis of a situation. Like Spock, logos is all about logic and evidence. It is your way of fulfilling your audience’s need for factual evidence that is presented in a way that makes sense. Logos is “the proof in the pudding”. It stimulates your audience’s need to see in order to believe. Logos is about a clear and understandable message, and a specific evidence that your audience can connect to and understand.

Kirk: Pathos or the emotional appeal

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Captain James T. Kirk, the leader of the Enterprise is a cunning, assertive, and passionate man, who often throws caution to the wind and does what seems irrational and rash. In the end though, Kirk’s actions, which turn out to be a blend of instinct, experience, and duty save the Enterprise (whether it is from a fierce Romulan commander or a super-computer bent on world domination). Like Kirk, pathos or emotion must be balanced by ethics and logic. Pathos is potentially the most ethically dangerous of the three appeals–humans are emotional creatures whose emotions can be manipulated and toyed with. However, pathos is also necessary. Your audience may see the logic of your message and may also see you as an authority in your field, but without that emotional core, they’ll ignore your message like they ignore most messages telling them to do this or not do that.

So, tend to each one of these appeals, devote time to developing the logic of your message, use emotion to humanize your logic, and show your audience you are worth listening to. You will surely go where no one has gone before!

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The Rhetoric of Presentation Design, Revisited

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Monday marks the first on campus class of the year for me. As it’s been two months since I taught in a classroom (aside from faculty development workshops), I have been devoting the past week to preparing my class by revising assignments, creating a new 2-page max layout for all instruction sheets, and revamping my 15 decks for the month. In preparing for the rhetoric and persuasion portion of the class, I have begun revisiting my writing/research on persuasion. In 2011, I wrote a series of articles discussing how we as presenters can use our visual aids to develop the three rhetorical appeals necessary to persuading an audience–ethos, pathos, and logos. I have been working to integrate this aspect of rhetoric a bit more explicitly since then, primarily because we devote so much time to slide design in class and because as presenters, we must continue to work to ensure slides are accompaniment, enhancement, proof of concept, and motivators towards action–not crutches or teleprompters.  Several months ago, super student Travis Ockerman created the video below as an extra credit activity in the online iteration of Professional Communication and Presentation.

Rhetoric & Persuasion Summary from Travis Ockerman on Vimeo.

In the video, Travis summarizes not only the course’s basic lessons on persuasion, in particular ethos, pathos, and logos, but he also beautifully integrates what he’s learned about visual design by creating a well-designed presentation and discussing how presenters can use visuals to help strengthen the three appeals. I added this video as a required viewing in my online classes, and now that my on campus course is web enhanced, I’ll be adding this to the list of assets available to students beyond their require text, Resonate. It’s back to grading and preparing for next month. Happy Friday!

 

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Rhetoric Lessons from TED

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The three cornerstones of public speaking, credibility, emotion, and logic, have been drilled into countless students of both written and oratory rhetoric. This is done with good reason. Aristotle, a man whose insights permeate philosophy, literature, and the arts, knew his stuff. He codified the very science and art of persuasion, while also engaging in one of the first forms of psychological analysis of the human mind’s response to the rhetorical appeals. Aristotle brings light to three important aspects of the human psyche; these directly relate to a speaker’s ability to most effectively persuade a given audience in a specific situation:

We trust speakers who we judge as credible, and trust is a relative term based on a series of variables. This is ethos.

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We demand sound, unbiased, and clear evidence placed into a logical organization and pattern. This is logos.

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We are only persuaded when we are led to feel something, to perceive the problem emotionally. This is pathos.

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Earlier this week, Alex Rister of Creating Communication shared this excellent video with her readers that helps further explain just how important each of these are in our age of information overload.  Conor Neill, the creator of this excellent new TED-ED resource, asserts that it’s the balance and interplay between all three of these areas that leads to true persuasion.

Rhetoric in Action

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Susan Cain Photo Credit: jurvetson via Compfight cc; Jill Bolte Taylor Photo Credit: cr8it via Compfight cc; Amy Cuddy Photo Credit: poptech via Compfight cc

One way to tap into the power of rhetoric is to study how great speakers apply the three appeals, ethos, pathos, and logos. Let’s take a look at how three TED presenters put rhetorical theory into practice in their presentations.

Susan Cain’s “The Power of Introverts”: Improve ethos through shared experience

Cain does a masterful job of developing her ethos, which is a blend of trustworthiness, similarity, reputation, and authority (Dlugan 2010), by drawing on personal stories–her experience being an introvert at “ROWDIE” camp, her choice to write a book and her determination to share her suitcase of ideas with the world. These personal stories build her reputation and authority. But, what really lends her complete credibility is her use of similarity. Cain connects her stories to our shared experiences, our culture of character, our culture of personality, our workplaces, our schools. She draws from the world’s most respected introverts, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, in describing the power of introverts. Cain places all of her audience in the problem her big idea helps to solve–we have big problems in the world; we need to value the power of introspection, solitude, and self-reflection on the human experience.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s “A Stroke of Insight”: Improve pathos by showing you care

Bolte Taylor’s talk was one of the first I watched and one of the first I shared with my students. Reception to this talk is always mixed–some students completely dig Taylor’s big idea–that we can choose to step into a right-hemisphere state of mind where we view ourselves as part of a collective universal being. Other students find Taylor’s message to be too “touchy-feely.” Regardless of reception, one cannot help but be impacted by Taylor’s delivery. As a neuroanatomist, we expect Taylor to be cold, detached, scientific. This perception is reinforced by her matter of fact explanation of the human brain while holding an actual human brain. But, Bolte Taylor jarrs the audience’s perceptions by channeling the power of pathos. The experience of having a stroke is conveyed through emotive and physical storytelling. Taylor weaves in beautiful metaphors and invites her audience to experience the stroke that led her to her shareable idea. It’s her willingness to let the audience see her vulnerability, her acceptance of death, her realization that life is not really about me but about we that leads to true persuasion.

Amy Cuddy, “Body language”: Improve logos by visualizing evidence

The content of Cuddy’s TED talk on body language is useful in considering the impact what we do not say when we present can have on an audience’s perceptions and their willingness to accept a message. But, when we move beyond content to analyze the structure and delivery of this message, an important lesson about how to integrate examples and evidence emerges. Cuddy sets the tone for the presentation by calling attention to the body, by asking her audience to become aware of their bodies. Immediately, the audience is put into the mindframe of the presentation’s big idea–that body language does more than just reflect mood; body language can change and shape our minds and in turn our behavior. She then tells the story that led to this big idea, interweaving testimony, examples, and case studies paired with video, images, and simple data display. As a viewer, I found myself hypersensitive to my posture and body language for the duration of the speech: I mimicked the power poses; I recalled the many times I’d noticed myself and others displaying the non-verbal behavior Cuddy describes and displays. Cuddy’s rich examples bring her logic to life and help her achieve her goal–to persuade her audience to “fake it til you become it”, to use body language as a means for personal growth and change.

Note that these speakers all used the three appeals together. Rhetorical appeals do not exist in a vacuum; they work with each other. I like to think of a strong argument as the Starship Enterprise–Star Trek the series and the Enterprise as a ship work because of the interplay between Spock (logos), McCoy (ethos), and Kirk (pathos). Without these three, the Enterprise crew cannot function; without these three, there would be no Trek. Tap into the three rhetorical appeals and bring your big idea to life in a way that will truly move your audience to action.

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The Rhetoric of Presentation Design: An Introduction and More

This month is my first solid month off from 16 hours of active classroom teaching time each week in three years. I have put this small break (I still sit in on class, though my monkey dance time has decreased significantly) off for a while, partly because I am a complete control freak, and partly because if I am perfectly honest, interaction with my students is the closest I get to a meaningful exchange of ideas outside of chatting up my friends on the weekends. I live in a slightly more rural area than I am comfortable with right now (there are roosters in my backyard), and teaching is also my excuse to leave the farms of Apopka and venture into the big city. On top of all that, I also just really love teaching, and the thought of spending the month away from discussions on the subjects I love most is just not that appealing. However, I’ve seen the difference a bit of a break has made in fellow superteacher Alex Rister’s personal and professional endeavors, so I figured I owed myself the chance to work on projects of my own choosing.

This bit of time has given me a chance to explore the place of slides and slide decks in 21st century presentation rhetoric. I had a small “aha moment” when I realized that one way I can punch through that decades-old wall that prevents many teachers, professionals, and individuals from making their way into the realm of simple, clean, design-driven visual aids is to emphasize that whether we realize it or not, a slide deck’s ubiquitousness makes it a powerful, yet often misused tool of rhetoric and persuasion.

Not sure how Aristotle would feel about slides. He might think them a lazy man’s approach to public speech. Then again, show him what they can do in the right hands and he’d be sold.

Image: Brett Jordan

For Aristotle, rhetoric is the ability to find the best available means for persuading an audience  in a given situation. This best available means often comes in the form of the three affective rhetorical appeals, ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic. Like it or not, our slides have become one of the most powerfully effective means of developing these three appeals. But, with such great power and possibility comes responsibility. As presenters, whether we are trained designers or not, we have a responsibility to good slide stewardship. Disregarding the rhetorical power of your slides to be conveyors of your ethos, pathos, and logos is poor stewardship and can damage your audience’s perception of you, your message, and their connection to your topic. So, what exactly is the role of your slides in developing a strong persuasive message?

The Ethos of Your Slides

Image: AlphaChimpStudio

Ethos is a blend of trustworthiness, empathy, and authority (I mesh reputation in here with authority and trustworthiness).  Most important to me is empathy, and here, I can only point presenters to one idea, The Golden Rule: Never give a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through yourself. Great slides are a breath of fresh air in the forest of slideuments because they illustrate a concern for the audience and the audience’s experience.

How long would you pay attention to a speaker whose presentation featured 10 slides just like this? 20? 30? What does this say about this speaker's command of subject? Whether the view or judgment is accurate, how would you as an audience member view the presenter?

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Your slides are a powerful conveyor of ethos, but they can also be an ethos killer. A well designed set of slides contains information that is accurate and displayed in a clean and understandable way. A poorly design set of slides illustrates that you either don’t know your subject or don’t care about engaging your audience. This is especially important in terms of information and data display. Nancy Duarte establishes a very useful set of guidelines for data slides. A great data slide follows these five rules; a great slide also follows these basic principles:

1. Tell the truth

Image: arimoore

If you have to skew your information to get your audience to believe in your message, then your message is not very strong to begin with. Good ethos is illustrated by command of subject.

2. Get to the point

Why is your slide on the screen? If you can't answer that in one sentence, neither can your audience.

3. Use the right tool for the job

Most people assume I place slides first in the presentation landscape because I devote so much time to them, but designing slides has also taught me to use them only when I need them.

Image: NFS-974

4. Highlight what’s important

Contrast and hierarchy are not just fancy design words--they are principles to live by. Show your audience you see things from their perspective by following the glance media rule--information should be processed quickly and easily.

Image: blackham

5. Keep it simple

Great design may be simple and straightforward, but that doesn't make it easy. Reduce your text, reduce your attachment to slides, and reduce the chances your audience will view your credibility in a poor light.

Image: mr • p

As designers, we can use this as a guide for the ethos of our slide deck. These rules help reinforce the importance of trustworthiness and transparency; they can also help establish authority. Authority is a subtle element in slides, and one that many individuals and organizations fail to maximize. Good design lends a presenter authority. Good design indicates confidence (if you don’t rely on bullets, that also means you know your stuff) as well as proof of knowledge and support for the speaker’s ideas, not repetition of the speaker’s ideas. A well executed presentation also shows your audience you bothered to practice and rehearse. Your presentation and your idea matters to you, so it will matter to them.

Look for two more installments in this series–the pathos and logos of presentation design.

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