How to establish Ethos in a speech
Ethos is a Greek word meaning “custom,” “habit,” or “character.” It’s one of the key elements of a great speech, including logos and pathos and is essentially about establishing trust with your audience.
The great philosopher Aristotle said that people are more likely to believe someone who has a good character. He believed that we are more likely to be persuaded by someone who can be trusted, and is “similar to us”.
In other words, if the audience trust you, then they expect that what you are telling them is true. If you are similar to your audience, then your audience will be more receptive to your ideas in the same way.
That is Ethos.
If you have high ethos, your audience will listen and pay attention from your first word.
So how can ethos be achieved? No matter how much knowledge or experience you have as a leader, you still need to apply the techniques to establish ethos.
In this article, I’m going to share the three dimensions of ethos and how you can establish them in your speech.
- Create trust through eye contact
Eye contact allows us to focus on the moment, being present and attentive to our audience. Many speakers are very self-focused when they step up to the podium. They’ve rehearsed and rehearsed and tend to go on autopilot, delivering their speech the way they’ve rehearsed it…no matter what reaction they get from the audience. But this can lose valuable connection with the people who you’re trying to influence.
Eye contact plays a big part of building trust. It helps to develop a genuine connection between you (the speaker) and the audience.
When speaking to a large audience, block the audience into quadrants – front right, front left, back right, and back left. Make sure you give everyone attention whether they are in the front right, front left, back right, or back left.
Many speakers make a mistake of speaking to all. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes.
Would you want to feel like you are just “one of them?” Of course not! Every audience member wants to feel like the speaker is only talking to me.
You could ask a question and look to one person. You could pick up some laughs in the audience and react to the person who was laughing the loudest.
You could make really good eye contact and connect one on one.
If you are speaking online, however, use of eye contact is quite different. If your eyes meet the audience’s on your screen, you are NOT making eye contact!! When you look at your audience’s faces on the screen, you will appear on their screen that you are looking down, falsely portraying lack of confidence. When speaking online, make sure that you look straight into the camera, which means you will not be able to see your audience’s faces. But this way, your eyes meet every one of your audience’s, and they will feel as though you are talking to them individually.
Whether you’re presenting virtually or face-to-face, make sure you acknowledge all but speak to one.
- Establish similarity by knowing your audience
Know your audience! Know what will resonate with them, what they care about and what they will empathize with. Make your ONE BIG MESSAGE relevant to them. This can be achieved through storytelling and the characters within it.
What draws us to a novel, or a movie is when we experience some sort of similarities between ourselves and the characters within it – or the situations they find themselves in. Your audience does not need to have gone through the exact same situation to have empathy towards the protagonist of your story, but there needs to be some ‘hook’ that they can relate to.
Use language that is easy to understand for everyone. Avoid using jargon that may not be universally understood by people of different cultures.
- Establish your Reputation BEFORE you even speak
Reputation is what your audience knows about you before you get up to speak, or what they’ve made up their minds about you just by looking at you.
Make sure you write a credible written bio that can be used by an MC to introduce you to the podium, and make it resonate with your audience. It may include your experience in your field, what you know about your topic, your achievements and if relevant, your qualifications.
Other non-verbal elements to consider that will help establish your reputation, include how you are dressed for the occasion, how you carry yourself, how you control and compose yourself, how you behave as an audience member when other speakers talking, all of which affect the audience’s prejudgment of you as a speaker.
So, you see that establishing ethos relies on a lot of non-verbal elements in how you choose to present yourself.
Are you aware of how you’re coming across in your speeches and presentations? Many leaders and public speakers benefit from rehearsing their speech with a speaker coach who can give direct and candid feedback on how you’re coming across. It’s amazing how off the mark they can be! By getting a second opinion it can turn a mediocre speech into one that is memorable and action-orientated for the audience who hear it.