three keys to creating speech content that sticks

Oftentimes, talks are meant to educate, inform, or persuade an audience to consider something new. To achieve these goals at all, we ought to be intentional with how we craft our content.

Last week, I described how to keep a speech coherent and organized so that your audience can easily follow the content you share. In this post, I describe how to share content that engages and persuades. The Greek philosopher Aristotle knew all about this, and called it the art of rhetoric. (Sometimes philosophy doesn’t make any sense, but when I get it, I LOVE IT, and Aristotle locks this down!)

Aristotle recognized that the key to effective persuasion, in either written or oral form, required the presence of three important qualities: ethos (credibility), logos (facts), and pathos (emotion).

Ultimately, a speaker must make these three different “appeals” within their speech so that the audience can feel convinced about what they hear. Simple, yet strategic. Two of my favourite ways to be.

So, let’s explore why these three principles are critical, and how they play with one another to craft valuable content that sticks!

1. ETHOS ancient Greek word for “trustworthy”
content in your speech that carries credibility power

Establishing your credibility in a speech allows the audience to trust you as well as the message you’re delivering. While your credibility shines most significantly through your sense of character and how you present yourself to the audience, there are still ways to establish credibility within the content of your speech that will increase the level of trust the audience places in you:

  • Be similar: If giving your speech at an event or conference, establish credibility by referencing some topics from previous sessions that you and the audience have already experienced. Make connections to information that they’ve just heard or learned.
  • Be familiar: In my last post, I mentioned that knowing your audience is the ultimate requirement for speech preparation. Knowing your audience means that you have an opportunity to build ethos through the language you choose to use with them. Using familiar language helps them understand you better and makes them feel like they can identify with you.
  • Be reputable: Highlight your expertise, knowledge, and experience about the topic in your own words somewhere at the start of your speech. If possible, this information can be included in your introduction bio read by your host. Share stories to show the audience how your own experiences are consistent with your message. Reference resources that (they think) are reputable. Again — this comes from knowing your audience!

2. LOGOS ancient Greek word for “logic”
content in your speech that carries reasoning power

You need to provide good reason for people to believe you. Here’s how:

  • Share facts with your audience so that they can understand how you come to your conclusions and can accept that what you are saying is true.
  • Support your arguments with facts, research, and personal stories.
  • Consider all the opposing arguments to your points and make sure you address them while keeping the focus on why your own reasons or perspectives are stronger.

Logos and ethos go hand in hand. If you are perceived as highly credible, your arguments will be too. And if you present sound logical arguments, it will be hard for the audience to deny that your content holds merit. Let ethos and logos play together!

3. PATHOS ancient Greek word for “suffering” or “experience”
content in your speech that carries emotional power

Above all, your goal is to provide a shared emotional connection with your audience. Decide which emotions you want your audience to experience when listening to your speech. If you get this right, your audience will feel the same way that you do about your topic. If you don’t get this right, the audience remains unconvinced of your reasons and unmotivated to act.

Creating emotional power in your speech includes:

  • using words that are emotionally charged or using humour, surprises, or turning points.
  • using descriptive stories and metaphors that leave vivid images in the audience’s mind.
  • matching your vocal delivery and gestures to the emotions you want to send across to your audience (more on this in the next post).

Engaging your audience through the appeal of emotion is one of the most promising ways for authentic, real connection and investment in your message. Above all, it is a combination of your content and the way you deliver it that will evoke the emotions you want your audience to experience.

… So, how was all that for persuading? ;) Remember:

credibility and trust + facts and logic + emotions and connection = your formula for creating speech content that is persuasive and engaging and speaks to the needs of any and every audience member!

Let me know: Which quality in a speech do you find the most difficult to achieve? Which quality matters the most to you as an audience member?

Originally published at on March 25, 2015.