Tag Archives: logos

Tweak Your Speech: Rhetoric and Star Trek


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.


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.


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


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


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


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

Rhetoric of pres design.001

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

Rhetoric from TED.001

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.

Rhetoric from TED.002

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

Rhetoric from TED.003

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

Rhetoric from TED.004

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

Rhetoric from TED.005

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: Logos

I’d like to finish up this series on the rhetoric of presentation design by quoting my favorite, Vulcan, Mr. Spock.

JD Hancock

Logos at its most basic level is about evidence and the presentation of that evidence in a reasonable way. Were we all like Mr. Spock, we would only need logos–facts, evidence, logical organization, clear reasoning, and truth (or Truth). Logic sets Spock and other Vulcans apart from the rest of us humanoids, who are driven by a natural need for authority and our often irrational and destructive emotions. But, if we were all Vulcans, life would likely be pretty boring (Vulcans don’t laugh, dance, drink, or play). As it is, the fact that we are not emotionless, logic-driven alien demi-gods means that we must also ensure our use of logic is engaging, useful, relevant, and understandable.

I love reading blogs (and recently, writing them), and one of my favorites is Six Minutes. Their series on rhetoric and persuasion is practical, useful information for everyday presenters. One of my favorite resources for the practical development of logos is this article from Six Minutes. Andrew Dlugan lays out 17 ways to ensure your logos is understandable (can your audience understand all of your points?), logical (do your points make sense?), and real (is your evidence concrete?). I am going to discuss the ones that most relate to the logos of your slides.

Make your Slides Understandable

1. Use diagrams and charts.

Diagrams: Frugal Dad (Left), GOOD (Top Right), Bureau of Labor Statistics (Bottom Right)

A well-designed diagram, with a bit of help from you, can make for an awesome piece of evidence. This video from infographic masters Column Five sums up why visualizing data helps users make sense of a dense information jungle.

Check out this awesome visualization--it's a response to the current place of Wal-mart in American society and economics.

Check out Alltop’s infographics section for more awesome examples like the ones above.

2. Use progressive disclosure.

Showing only one item at a time draws attention to sequences and processes, bettering your audience's understanding of subject.

 { circle }.. (॓.॔)ノ゙

Showing one element at a time, or progressive disclosure is like your presentation’s “More” button. Using progressive disclosure, as Good does in their series of infographic videos can aid you in revealing information to your audience in an understandable and clear way.

Make Your Slides Logical

1. Leverage commonplaces with a quote.

Speaking to a room full of venture capitalists?


Leveraging the commonplaces or shared values of achievement and single-minded purpose through a quote can help show the inherent logic of your argument.

2. Drive questions with impacting visuals.

My favorite example of using an immediately recognizable image in conjunction with an excellent thought-provoking question is Michael Pollan’s 2009 PopTech talk on the Sun Food Agenda.

Ed Yourdon

Pollan shows us an image of a the now ubiquitous Quarter Pounder with Cheese from McDonald’s and asks the audience if they’ve ever wondered where this meal comes from, what the process is from beginning to end. He then answers the question for the audience by describing the step by step life cycle of a beef cow. He keeps the seemingly harmless image of the burger fresh in the audience’s mind as he exposes them to the reality behind this product. If you haven’t seen Pollan’s talk, it’s a must watch and a fantastic example of how slides can be used to successfully develop each of your rhetorical appeals.

Michael Pollan: Sustainable Food

Make Your Slides Real

1. Apply the picture superiority effect consistently.

Ed Yourdon

Something else Pollan does in his Pop Tech talk that engages his audience and illustrates the validity of his words is his consistent use of the picture superiority effect. Each of Pollan’s visuals features either impacting images (such as his shots of a cattle farm he dubs “Cowschwitz”) or incredibly simple and immediately recognizable pictorals, such as his comparison of how much waste 150,000 cows produce (the equivalent of the entire city of Chicago).

2. Use visuals to reinforce verbal stories.

I’d like to direct you to TOMS as an example of using visuals to reinforce stories.


The story of TOMS shoes is an impacting one; the organization is committed to its “one for one” campaign, whose effort has always been to improve the quality of life of children by providing them with a free pair of shoes.

TOMS doesn't just show you cool shoes; they show you why these shoes matter.


But, it’s not the shoe alone TOMS customers are drawn to–what draws TOMS’ customers is Blake’s story.

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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?

Image: labanex

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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