Aristotle, the philosopher who immortalised the Ethos, Logos, Pathos principle with regard to persuasive speaking

The Secret of Writing a Persuasive Speech (On Any Topic) | Ethos, Logos, Pathos is Not Enough

If you are delivering a speech with the aim of convincing the audience to adopt or accept your point of view, you are delivering a persuasive speech. While writing a persuasive speech, a lot of things need to be kept in mind such as researching the audience, knowing your topic as well as being flexible with the content.

While it is one of those abilities that will serve a speaker way beyond the stage, it’s also one of the most challenging to learn.

Let’s face it, convincing someone to truly believe in something is not an easy task.

There are quite a few instances when you might be wanting to persuade an audience. Maybe you’re trying to inspire or motivate them. Maybe you’re trying to convince them to change their opinions. Or maybe you want the audience to take some kind of action after they hear your speech.

But how do you build up (or improve upon) this ability to persuade a crowd through your speech?

Ethos. Logos. Pathos.

What it is and why is it not enough for a persuasive speech?

The famed Greek philosopher, Aristotle, immortalized these words with regard to persuasive speaking. In short, this is what the words mean:

Ethos, meaning ethics, refers to our credibility as a speaker.

To adopt your point of view your audience must first trust you. To make this clear, think about a successful CEO talking about the lessons she has learnt in her years of business. Even if her speaking ability is not the best, people will still be persuaded by her ideas because of her credibility.

Using references and stories of your personal experiences really help add credibility to a speech.

Logos, meaning logic, refers to reasoning.

Your argument needs to make sense, right? Clearly explaining why audience members need to change their opinion or behaviour backed with logic and reason is an obvious but understated rule of persuasive speaking.

Pathos, meaning emotion, refers to the emotional side of a speech, the part of the speech that appeals to the sentiments of the audience.

Happiness, sadness, empathy, sympathy – are all emotions that your audience can resonate with. Evoking these emotions in listeners in relation to your topic is a powerful tool to persuade them.

This is what these words mean and are a good base to understand what it takes to create a persuasive speech. However, to me personally, it didn’t really help.

I understood that my speech must be credible and backed by logic as well as emotion. But that did not help me actually write a persuasive speech.

Here are a few tips that I was advised on by my mentors on how to go about writing a persuasive speech:

Research your audience

It’s always about the audience. It’s not about making the most kick-ass speech. It’s about targeting your audience with what resonates with them. What many speakers who are starting out end up doing is that they feel their one speech will be effective to all audiences.

Instead, we need to assess our audience’s needs and craft a speech that fits those needs – that’s what makes a good persuasive speech.

This does not mean you need to change your speech entirely. But by tweaking the same speech for different audiences with different call to actions, you can resonate and provide relevant messages to each audience you speak to.

For example, let’s say you are giving a talk on how the younger generation needs to be more patient. If you are delivering that speech to a group of youngsters, your call to action will be something along the lines of what they can do to be more patient and not stress a lot about the future.

But if you are delivering the same speech to an older audience – one that’s well past the age of 30 – your speech does not need to change. But your call to action can be tweaked to something along the lines of how parents or the older generation can help the youngsters to calm down and be more patient.

Read our article on The Importance of Knowing Your Audience When Delivering a Speech to gain a better understanding of researching your audience.

Research your persuasive topic

To persuade, we must first “Know our shit”. Even if you’re fairly familiar with your subject, you need to research. You cannot only rely on your power of discussion or your skill in speaking clearly when it comes to persuasive speaking.

The crowd will believe you when they know and feel you are certain and confident in what you have to say.

To make the audience believe in you, they must first feel that you believe in yourself. Research helps with this confidence. It gives you that safety wherein if in case someone does try and question you on your subject, you have proof to back it up. From that safety, comes confidence.

When you don’t research and are just talking in thin air, the audience will notice. This will lower your chances of them buying into your ideas. When you are preparing your speech, research your topic – the stats and facts. See what other opinions there are on the topic. Your speech will come out much stronger when it’s backed with proof.

Preparation to aid flexibility

Persuasion is not about delivering a memorized speech to perfection. It’s about tailoring your speech to appeal best to the time you are in and to the audience you are delivering to.

Instead of going in and talking about a speech as a one-sided conversation, if the audience knows that you understand them, they are much likely to buy into your ideas.

Let me give you an example. This one time I was attending a networking event for startup founders. The event’s agenda had planned for 3 speakers (well respected entrepreneurs) followed by a networking session. Out of the 3 speakers, 2 I do not remember what they said.

But one of them, he stood out. Here’s why:

When he came on stage, he did not just start his prepared speech. He started with a question: “What is it that is troubling you at this very moment in your business?”

He went around the entire room and listened to what each one in the audience had to say. Now he knew the audience and he could tell them what they needed to hear the most instead of making them listen to what he wants them to listen to.

The audience also understood that what the speaker will be talking about now will directly relate to the problems they are having.

And it did. The entire speech was so relevant to each audience member. Most, if not all of us, got our problems addressed directly through his speech.

You see, he did not prepare his speech in the traditional way. But by knowing his content and subject so well through countless hours of preparation and experience, he could be flexible on stage and say what the audience needed to hear the most.

Structure of a Persuasive Speech 

How to Start

The start of a persuasive speech requires the undivided attention of the audience. The beginning of the speech determines whether the audience will listen to the rest of the speech. Kickstarting your speech with an interesting anecdote or shocking statistics can set the right tone for the speech.

James Oliver: Teach every child about food

Here is an example of a speech by James Oliver. He starts his speech with some appalling statistics. 

“Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat.” 

Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

Starting your speech with humor can also be a good idea as skillful use of humor can cause your words to be remembered. Pamela Meyer starts her speech with this skill, balances humor and connects with the audience.

“Okay, now I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar. (Laughter) Also, the person to your left is a liar. Also, the person sitting in your very seats is a liar. We’re all liars. What I’m going to do today is I’m going to show you what the research says about why we’re all liars, how you can become a lie spotter and why you might want to go the extra mile and go from lie spotting to truth-seeking, and ultimately to trust-building.”

Ric Elias: 3 things I learned while my plane crashed

Starting your speech with a story or an anecdote is another great way of keeping the audience engaged. Whether you are persuading your audience to make a change or simply delivering a personal message, a story is a great way of doing that.

“Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well, I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D.”

How to close a persuasive speech

Closing a persuasive speech in an effective way is of utmost importance because it is the conclusion that is most likely to stay with the audience. The conclusion is driving your point, with which you started in the first place, back home. 

In a persuasive speech, the conclusion should entail summarising the main points of your speech and deals with the aspect of what it is that you want your audience to do.

Avoid saying things like “Thank You” or “I am running out of time” as part of your conclusion as such saying such phrases do not really add up to your speech and will nullify the purpose of your speech. 

Showing the right amount of aggression for your persuasive speech topic is also important as it gives the audience a clear idea about why they need to do what they need to do.

Alfred Chuang: 2017 College of Engineering Commencement speech

A powerful way of closing is persuading the audience to apply what you’ve told them in the speech. By doing so, you remind the audience of the key points of your speech and also ensure that you have summarised your persuasive speech effectively.

Watch Alfred Chuang’s entire speech.

“A new world is on the horizon. And it will be more incredible than any of us can possibly imagine. Our greatest innovations are ahead of us, not behind. But we need great engineers to build that world for us. And that’s you. We need you to not give up. Ever. We need you to finish your projects. Done, done, done. We need you to leverage the power of an immigrant-rich workforce. And we need you all to be a little insane.”

Emmeline Pankhurst: Freedom or Death

Making an appeal to the audience at the end of a persuasive speech can also be a good way to end your speech. Here is an excerpt from the speech of Emmeline Pankhurst. 

“So here am I. I come in the intervals of prison appearance. I come after having been four times imprisoned under the “Cat and Mouse Act”, probably going back to be rearrested as soon as I set my foot on British soil. I come to ask you to help to win this fight. If we win it, this hardest of all fights, then, to be sure, in the future, it is going to be made easier for women all over the world to win their fight when their time comes.”

Anjelah Johnson: Laughter is a medicine

Leaving the audience on a laughing note can lighten up the heavier subject, leaving the audience at ease. However, offensive jokes should be avoided at all costs and one should also make sure that the jokes are related to the subject matter of the speech. 

Humor is a way of connecting with the audience and the message of your speech can be delivered more effectively if the audience is able to relate to it. Watch the entire speech of Anjelah Johnson where she has very cleverly inserted humor.

“Really?! It’s funny because my finger didn’t do like that before I came in here.” “It’s okay honey, don’t worry. I’ll fix it for you, don’t worry.” (Imitates talking in Vietnamese) (Laughter) (Laughter) (Stops talking Vietnamese) “Oh, see? You look so pretty!” God bless you guys.” 

How to use narrative structures to tell stories

While delivering a persuasive speech, stories can be an effective way of organizing information and also influencing our decision-making process. Moreover, narrative structures can also aid in persuading people. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, effective storytelling can help anyone in leadership who seeks to persuade others of his/her opinion. A careful blend of rhetoric and facts when woven into the right story has the potential to change minds. 

There are different types of narrative structures such as Rags to Riches is a story where a person from an oppressive and poor background–struggles– attains wealth and status.

Another narrative structure often used is that of Nested Loops, where the speaker starts by talking about three or more narratives in a row without completing any of it, making the audience more curious. After finishing all the narratives, the speaker starts closing these stories in reverse order. 

Read our extensively written article on how to use such narrative structures, which is titled 9 Storytelling Approaches For Your Next Speech or Presentation

Persuasive Speech Examples

Here are some of the most persuasive and well-written speeches of the modern world (my humble opinion!):

Malala Yousafzai (Nobel Acceptance Speech)

I had two options, one was to remain silent and wait to be killed. And the second was to speak up and then be killed. I chose the second one. I decided to speak up. The terrorists tried to stop us and attacked me and my friends on 9th October 2012, but their bullets could not win. We survived. And since that day, our voices have only grown louder. I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not. It is the story of many girls. Today, I tell their stories too.

Speech Excerpt

Here, in this example, we see how Malala achieved her goal of spreading awareness about education deprivation and calling others to take action. Malala grabs the audience’s attention by telling her story which is filled with obstacles, challenges, and victories. The speaker not only talks about her obstacles but also addresses how the solution changed her life and that of others. 

Persuasive speeches not only acknowledge the problem but also include the solution which will motivate the audience to create a change.

Darren Tay (Toastmasters International Speech Contest)

My friends, let us all not run away from our inner bullies anymore. Let us all face our inner bullies, acknowledge its presence and fight. Let us all be vulnerable together.

Speech Excerpt

This speech persuades us to fight inner demons and also accept the fact that everyone has a dark side to themselves. The speaker cleverly uses the rhetorical strategy of repetition by repeating the phrase “Let us all”, producing an emphasis on the subject matter. Moreover, repetition can also create an emotional effect that will be of great use in a persuasive speech. 

Sir Ken Robinson (TED – Do Schools Kill Creativity?)

She was eventually auditioned for the Royal Ballet School. She became a soloist. She had a wonderful career at the Royal Ballet. She eventually graduated
from the Royal Ballet School, founded her own company – the Gillian Lynne Dance Company, met Andrew Lloyd Webber. She’s been responsible for some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, she’s given pleasure to millions, and she’s a multimillionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

Speech Excerpt

In this excerpt, the speaker grabs the attention of the audience by telling an interesting story of a woman from the Royal Ballet School. This attention-grabbing story can lead to a more receptive audience and hence better engagement from the audience’s end. The speaker also makes sure that the story is related to his topic making it more suitable for the audience. 

Why are these speeches so iconic? Because of their brilliant use of story-telling to persuade. All speeches, at the end of it, are looking to persuade in some form or another.

But it’s the way we use our words, the way we deliver, the way we use emotions which eventually inspires action.

Here are some of the other iconic persuasive speeches given by great world leaders:

Read our extensively written article to gain a better understanding of How to Practice for a Speech | Methods and Techniques.

Small tips to make a big difference for a Persuasive Speech

Pausing and silences

Using silence in speech can be one of the most powerful techniques to grab your audience’s attention and also make an impact. The right amount of pauses in a speech at the right time ought to keep the audience engaged and also make it easier for them to follow the speech. 

In a persuasive speech, the speaker pausing for a few moments can often come across as someone who is patient and attentive to his audience. 

Bookending your speech

By bookending your speech, we mean that the start and the end of your speech should have a shared component, making a link and binding the two together to make it more meaningful. This helps the audience understand the content effectively and also keeps them engaged throughout the speech. 

One way of bookending your speech is by using quotes in the beginning and using the same quote in the end. This method, however, needs to be used cleverly as it should move the audience and persuade them to see the new perspective with the same quote at the end. 

Another way can also be using the same stats, facts, or figures at the start and the end. This will also show how well-prepared you are as well as how well-versed you are with the topic. 

Read our extensively written article on 7 Techniques to Bookending Your Speech: Guidelines and Examples to know more about bookending. 

Inflection

By inflection, we mean expressing emotions through your voice tonality. To have a greater impact, one can try using and reflecting their voice with one’s emotions. 

Inflection is not emphasized upon but in public speaking, it is of utmost importance. 

We’ve all had that one teacher in school, who makes us want to sleep because of her monotonous tone. That dull and monotonous tone is level inflection, which is a lack of change in the pitch. 

However, if you want to provoke a response from the audience, it is advisable to use upward inflection, that is, ending on a higher note. 

A downward inflection, that is ending on a lower note, can also be used while delivering a fact or making a statement that shows certainty and confidence. 

To know more about voice modulation, read our article on All You Need to Know about Voice Modulation & Tonality for Public Speaking

Smile 

While giving a speech, the ultimate goal is to connect with the audience. One way of doing that is by smiling as this makes the audience feel comfortable and welcomed. 

Smiling can also help you calm down and reduce the tension or nervousness that you might be facing while on stage. 

Purposeful movement

Body movement forms an integral part of public speaking. However, too much or too little movement should be avoided. The true effectiveness of body movement lies between these two extremes, that is, purposeful movement. It means every movement you make on stage should have a purpose. 

Something as simple as hand gestures can get tricky when on stage as too little of it will make you awkward and too much of it will make the audience feel uneasy.

Purposeful body movement when in sync with your message, makes you look authentic and also adds genuineness to your message. 

Conclusion

Persuasive speeches can be challenging but by keeping the above-mentioned points in mind, writing one can be made simpler. Writing persuasive speeches is a skill worth inculcating as it helps in professional as well as personal development. 

Apart from ethos, pathos, and logos, there are other things to be kept in mind such as researching the audience as well as the topic, being flexible with the content structure while also considering the structure of the persuasive speech.

Being persuasive makes it simpler for you to get things done as it helps in guiding others to your thinking style. As a public speaker it is important to speak well but inculcating persuasive skills is a key to achieving success.

Hence, the next time you are listening to a speech and if the speaker has you engrossed in his discussion, make sure to notice and identify his/her persuasion skills that make them stand out from the rest.

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.