How Aristotle Can Help You with Your Business Writing and Speaking

Although the Ancient Greeks may seem irrelevant to some, they developed many important concepts that influence many aspects of our lives today. One area where we can apply these concepts is in our business writing and speaking.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric is a prime example. In the book, Aristotle describes three essential elements of rhetoric: ethos, pathos and logos. Understanding these and applying them in your business writing and speaking will help you persuade your readers and listeners when you are promoting your products, services and ideas.

What is rhetoric?

Despite its negative image, rhetoric is the art of persuasive writing and speaking. There are many rhetorical appeals a writer can use. Aristotle broadly defined these as:

  • ethos – authority, credibility, character
  • pathos – emotion, identity, self-interest
  • logos – logic, reason.

According to Aristotle, any attempt to persuade your audience when writing or speaking should include all of these.

How you can apply Aristotle’s ideas to your business writing

Let’s look at a few examples of how you can use ethos, pathos and logos in your business writing and speaking.

Ethos

Ethos can be applied in many ways in your business writing and presentations to gain authority and credibility.

Your website is a great place to establish your credibility. You can do this is on your About Us page by showing your readers what you have achieved. This might be a list of satisfied clients, customer testimonials, projects you have completed successfully, industry or professional awards you have won, or profiles highlighting the skills and knowledge of your key personnel. Any of these will build your credibility and authority in the eyes or your readers.

If speaking at a public event, you can establish your ethos by the way you are introduced. The best way to ensure this is to write your own introduction, or at least list the main points that you want mentioned. These might include your educational achievements, previous roles, projects completed, your current responsibilities, and recognitions and awards.

Pathos

Many writers believe that pathos is the most important of the three appeals. Emotion can be introduced in many direct or subtle ways.

If writing a case study about your product or service, you can emphasise the frustration or discomfort the customer experienced before discovering your solution. If potential customers suffer from similar problems, they will connect with the emotional side of the case study.

A recent occupational health and safety television commercial by WorkSafe Victoria (Australia) appealed to the emotions by showing us a workplace accident scene and then switching to a family waiting for the husband and father to return from work. You’re not sure if he’s been hurt and you feel worried for the family. He returns safely in the end, but you get strong emotional reminder of the importance of maintaining safe work practices and environments.

Logos

Whether you want people to buy your products or agree with your ideas, you need to use some form of logic or reasoning in your business writing.

If you’re writing a brochure about your product, you can show how much time, money or effort it saves your customers. In many cases, you will want to use statistical data to make your point. To be more credible it will help to have third-party party confirmation – for example, from a customer or industry association.

A website of a major insurance provider points out that 80 per cent of Australians are underinsured and lists the source of the statistic as a survey conducted by a government agency. This fact will make readers think: “Am I one of the 80 per cent? Chances are that I am, and I need to do something about it to avoid serious problems.” In this case, the statistical fact leads to an emotional response.

Combining authority, emotion and reason in your business writing and presentations

Choosing the right mix of ethos, pathos and logos is the key to persuasive writing and speaking. How you combine the three will depend on the product, the service or idea you’re promoting, and your audience. Business managers, for example, often need to make a logical case for purchasing a new solution to a problem, so business-to-business products and services require a rational justification. Consumer products and services tend to be promoted on an emotional level. For example, if you’re selling a relaxing holiday on the beach or expensive jewellery, you will want to focus on the emotional side of your offering.

Michael Gladkoff