The Historical Tradition of Public Speaking

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  • 0:01 Public Speaking: The…
  • 0:48 Use of Ethos, Logos and Pathos
  • 4:14 Contemporary Public Speaking
  • 6:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Public speaking has been around for over 2,500 years. Through the years, not much has changed. Speaking before a large audience is still done for the same reasons: to inform, persuade or entertain.

Public Speaking: The Early Years

It all started with the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle back in the 300s BC. Aristotle discovered that in order to rally the citizens into conformity, one needed to persuade people. This is what he called rhetoric, and it's defined as the capacity to persuade people, and he broke it down into three strategies:

  • Ethos
  • Logos
  • Pathos

Ethos is used when the source is credible and the speaker can show authority over the subject matter. Logos is used when there are facts to support the argument requiring that the audience use logic and deduction to decide on the strengths of the speaker's argument. Pathos is used for emotional appeals to gain audience acceptance. Let's break down each by using examples.

Use of Ethos, Logos and Pathos

Ethos relies on a trustworthy source. So, when the Surgeon General warns against the use of tobacco products, people perk up. We know that people who use tobacco products receive plenty of guff from friends and family about how bad a habit it is. While there is probably no sense dismissing their claims, is the outcry enough? After all, the advice does not come from expert testimony.

Now when the Surgeon General takes up the cause to warn the public about the dangers of firsthand and secondhand smoke, people listen up. Not because he is a better speaker, but because the Surgeon General is an authoritative figure who possesses the education and experience to speak on health issues, like smoking. So, we pay attention.

Logos works differently. It relies on deductive and inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning works from the top down. This means, it goes from a very broad conclusion to a very specific conclusion.

Perhaps an example will help. I cut down on my calorie intake by 500 calories a day for a week. I lost two pounds in that week. Therefore, if I cut down my calories by 500 a day every week, I will lose two pounds every week. This conclusion relies on deductive reasoning.

In public speaking, a speaker will use this method to prove that there is a logical reason for the claim because it relies on a correct original premise, like the fact that lowering calorie intake aids in weight loss. In our example, this may very well be enough to convince an audience to cut down on the cake to lose weight.

Now inductive reasoning works from the bottom up. The opposite of deductive reasoning, it moves from specific to broad conclusions. To use our earlier example, I would say that this week I lost two pounds. I also ate 500 calories less per day. This means that if I lost two pounds this week, it must be because I shaved off 500 calories per day.

What makes inductive reasoning less reliable is that there are variables that could also be introduced to affect the results. So, losing two pounds this week could be the result of other things as well: sickness, more exercise, less fat intake, etc. I can't attribute the weight loss to cutting calories with certainty.

In either type of reasoning, nothing can be proved based on the facts. It must be inferred, or assumed based on the information, by the audience. This makes it of a more logical response to the speaker's words based on the premises. The entire argument is believable because each individual premise holds truth.

Pathos is an emotional appeal by the speaker. When a speaker invokes an emotional call to action, he is tugging at the heartstrings of his audience. This is a pretty strong way to persuade people to do something. Fear, joy, happiness, trust and anger are emotions that get attention. This is used quite often in advertising.

For example, an advertisement for a home security system may get a higher response if it shows a mother and a baby at home during a break-in because it instills fear in the viewer. Being burglarized is scary enough. Being home with a small child while a crazed burglar enters your home is downright terrifying. So, a speaker who uses experiences that evoke strong emotion is highly likely to gain audience attention.

And while modern-day public speakers use the same methods to communicate their message to large groups of people, contemporary public speaking must employ an up-to-date approach.

Contemporary Public Speaking

In Grecian times, there were fewer public speakers and a smaller audience. Nowadays, it is much more difficult for a public speaker to gain audience approval simply because there are so many venues in which a public voice can be heard.

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