What is Pathos Anyway?

I sat through hundreds of lectures and presentations during my many years of schooling. What do I remember from all of those lessons? I remember a group project on the Navy SEALs in which I finally understood what those in service go through to protect our country. I remember a moving speech from a survivor of the Holocaust. I remember a teacher who hilariously entered the room to the “Friends” theme song on the day we talked about interpersonal relationships. I remember increasing my vocabulary in my senior English class thanks to a game my teacher invented using post-it notes.

My strongest memories in the classroom are all linked to emotion. Not surprising given that we know that “Emotion acts like a highlighter that emphasizes certain aspects of experiences to make them more memorable.”

We’ve been talking about Aristotle’s 3 proofs, his 3 pillars of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. If you missed our discussion on ethos or logos, check them out now. I saved my favorite pillar for last: pathos. Pathos is the Greek work for “suffering.” It is the use of emotional appeals to move people. And it is a powerhouse of persuasion.

Pathos & The Brain

Traditionally logos (logic) has been considered the most effective way to change minds. But recent research has proven the truly remarkable power of emotion. In a fantastic article for Brain World Magazine, Kenneth Wesson says, “Although ours is generally considered a rational brain, it is an emotional brain, where feelings receive first priority.” He goes on to say that research estimates a whopping 95% of our reactions and decisions are steered by the amydala, the brain’s emotional processing center.

Think about your strongest memories. Are most of them tied to deep joy or deep pain? If so, that confirms what neuroscience has been trying to tell us. Our brains are wired to best and most deeply receive information and experiences which are tied to emotions.

Infusing Your Presentation with Pathos

If we pay attention, process, and remember things best which have emotional appeal, our presentations need strong pathos. There are many ways to use emotional appeals in your presentations. Here are just a few:

  • Tell stories. Narratives capture us because we can see ourselves in them and because we have a natural love for narrative format.
  • Show people. Point to how ideas, data, and research affect real, specific people. While this seems simple enough, you’d be surprised how many speeches meant to change or challenge us never actually show or remind us who “us” is.
  • Identify emotions. When developing your content, be specific about naming the emotions you expect or hope your audience will feel.
  • Show pictures. There’s truth to the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A particularly moving picture can help to create an atmosphere ripe for emotion.
  • Use imagery. Language that is peppered with imagery, specifically imagery connected to our senses, will resonate with us. So make use of powerful analogies and metaphors.

Use Balance

It’s important when developing a presentation that appeals to emotion not to overdo it. That brings us back to the all-important balance between the three proofs. If you don’t convince the audience that you are credible and can be trusted (ethos), any emotional appeals you make can feel manipulative. If the audience senses that you are playing with their emotions rather than appealing to them, they will quickly shut you out.

I find great comfort and strength knowing that speakers since the time of Aristotle have been using ethos, logos, and pathos to move their audiences. While presentations and presentation technologies will continue to advance and change in pace with the humans who develop and use them, some things, like these pillars of persuasion, have stayed the same for thousands of years. They are simply foundational.

At Ethos3, we are committed to using foundational theories along with innovative technologies to help make your presentation the best it can be. Find out more now.


Join our newsletter today!

© 2006-2024 Ethos3 – An Award Winning Presentation Design and Training Company ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Contact Us