What you say is important. Who you are, maybe even more so. Anyone who stands in front of an audience to speak is persuasive on some level or another. Speakers are asking the audience to move, to change, to grow, to challenge, or to adopt some idea. So trust is foundational.
Ethos, the speaker’s character, has been an important element of oratory since the beginning. Today we’ll look at quotes from three giants in the field of oratory, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian, to see what they have to say about why character matters.
“Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”
Aristotle uses the word “ethos” in many of his teachings. It is the Greek word for “character.” Ethos is one of three proofs a speaker might use to persuade the audience. Pathos is the use of emotional appeals, logos is the use of logical appeals, and ethos is the use of one’s own credibility or persona to influence the audience. When crafting a presentation today, it’s important to remember that the demonstration of your own character is 1/3 of the Aristotle’s equation.
“For eloquence is one of the supreme virtues—although all the virtues are equal and on a par, but nevertheless one has more beauty and distinction in outward appearance than another, as is the case with this faculty, which, after compassing a knowledge of facts, gives verbal expression to the thoughts and purposes of the mind in such a manner as to have the power of driving the hearers forward in any direction in which it has applied its weight; and the stronger this faculty is, the more necessary it is for it to be combined with integrity and supreme wisdom, and if we bestow fluency of speech on persons devoid of the those virtues, we shall not have made orators of them but shall have put weapons into the hands of madmen.”
Cicero delivers this powerful and somewhat terrifying quote in De Oratore. It serves as a pointed reminder of the power speakers hold. Especially great ones. We don’t have to think long to recall leaders who possessed great skills in oratory but who had greater concern for victory or power than for the good of humankind. It does us well to remember the power we hold every time we step on a stage.
“The ideal orator should be a good [person], speaking well.”
In perhaps my favorite definition of public speaking, Quintilian succinctly points to the relationship between character and public speaking skills. The audience benefits when you work to improve both your character and your competence. But it takes time, intentionality, and experience to build both. It’s important to know where your strengths and your weaknesses lie. To find out more about your public speaking persona, take our Badge assessment now.
Ways to Demonstrate Your Ethos
Use the following tips to become a speaker with outstanding character which would make the likes of even Aristotle, Cicero, or Quintilian proud.
- Study your audience ahead of time. Audience analysis shows that you have concern for the people to whom you’ll be speaking.
- Don’t ask for more from your audience than you are a willing to commit yourself.
- Live out the ideas you present. Be the same person off stage as you are on the stage.
- Set principles for yourself that don’t change no matter the size or makeup of the audience.
- Avoid misrepresenting information.
- Be upfront and vulnerable in your presentation.
- Use reliable sources and provide the audience with access to them.
- Take time to understand how your presentation might affect your listeners.
When you present with upstanding character, you are honoring one of the great pillars of the field of oratory: ethos. Not only that, but you are helping to preserve the great tradition of sharing ideas through the spoken word for generations to come.
We think ethos is so important that we put it in our name. Give us a chance to help you master the art of presenting today.