Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

Paths to Pathos: Maximize emotional appeals to convince your audience to welcome your message! [Wednesdays: “Speak on the Shoulders of Giants”]

May 19, 2021


A Greek word that means “suffering,” “experience,” or “emotion.”

In public speaking, pathos is a speaker’s ability to persuade an audience by appealing to their emotions.

According to ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, convincing an audience to believe or do something is not achieved only by appealing to their sense of reasoning.

Speakers must also know how to appeal to listeners’ emotions in an effective and ethical way.

Why is pathos important in delivering a persuasive speech or presentation?

As explained by Gini Beqiri, a writer at the public speaking consultation firm, VirtualSpeech, emotions serve as motivators in convincing an audience to take a speaker’s call-to-action.

When used properly, pathos increases the chances of listeners:

  • Understanding a speaker’s point of view.
  • Welcoming new perspectives about a particular topic.
  • Taking a desirable action in relation to a speaker’s message.

As a speaker, how can you incorporate pathos into your speech or presentation?

One way is by using memorable examples―a.k.a. stories or anecdotes.

For instance: Calling for donations.

If your talk aims to raise funds for a charity or nonprofit organization, you may share stories of different individuals to show how the audience’s donations help change lives for the better.

These narratives will tap the emotions of your listeners and cause them to identify with the subjects of your stories.

Another famous example: Political speeches.

Observe how a politician delivers an address to the nation.

If you listen closely, you’ll notice that these figures of authority are adept at harnessing people’s emotions to earn their favor and convince them to accept new policies and ideologies.

One of the things that politicians do to achieve that?

They use stories to grab an audience’s attention!

Here’s an example of effective use of pathos in a speech…

In August 2013, the Syrian government, under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons against Syrians who opposed his regime.

This led several countries―including the US―to consider military intervention to help end the conflict.

That time, former US President Barack Obama delivered an Address to the Nation where he said:

“Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.”

Now that’s one intense use of pathos!

By using tragic descriptions of civilians who died due to the Syrian government attack, Obama was able to provoke an emotional response and mobilize American sentiment in favor of US intervention on the subject matter.

These are not the only instances where you can use pathos. You may also use this if you’re going to deliver a speech or presentation in a business conference, team meeting, etc.

Just don’t go overboard in appealing to your audience’s emotions as this might also cause you to stray away from your goal!

Aside from stories and anecdotes, what else can you do to effectively incorporate pathos into your talks?

  • Use analogies and metaphors.

    Linking your ideas and messages with things or events your audience is already familiar with can trigger an emotional response.

    Remember though, no matter how passionate you are in delivering your speech or presentation, that won’t make an impact if your listeners do not understand what you’re saying.

    If you’re explaining a tough concept in your talk, you have to simplify complex thoughts or make an easy comparison. This is so that your audience will be able to grasp your message, as well as the emotions attached to that message.

  • Use emotionally charged words.

    Another way to apply pathos in a statement is by using vivid and sensory words to allow listeners to experience emotions.

    For example: If you’re conducting a product demonstration, you may say:

    “This kitchen roll is a life-saver!”

    … instead of:

    “This kitchen roll is great!”

    This is because “life-saver” is more emotionally charged compared to “great” and has a higher chance of triggering certain emotions that might compel listeners to avail the product.

    Aside from these types of words, you may also use sensory words or those that appeal to your audience’s senses.

    Take a look at this sentence:

    “The smell of freshly baked cookies and a strong black coffee will make you want to rush to the nearest café and buy your favorite snack and daily dose of caffeine.”

    By appealing to your audience’s sense of smell regarding cookies and coffee, you’re increasing their recollection of warm and happy memories related to the products, which can also trigger various emotions.

  • Use visual aids.

    There are times when words aren’t enough to get your message across to your audience.

    In situations like this, what’s one of the things you can use to supplement your talk?

    Visual tools―preferably a presentation slide!

    Keep in mind that visual aids are helpful, especially in instances where words aren’t convincing enough to compel listeners to take your call-to-action.

    For example: If your topic is about domestic violence taking place in families, showing a picture of a scared little child might be more impactful than simply saying that children are often victims of domestic violence.

  • Match what you’re saying with your body language.

    It’s normal for people to mirror their emotions with their body language. This shouldn’t be different in public speaking.

    Besides, what will your audience think of you if they see that your gestures do not coincide with what you’re saying, like if you’re trying to convince listeners to fight injustice and oppression yet your actions say otherwise?

    Your audience’s reaction will either be confused, annoyed, bored, or secretly laughing at you in their minds.

    What can you do to avoid that?

    One way is to mean what you say and say what you mean!

    Make sure you leave no room for your audience to misinterpret your message… and be mindful of your actions as well.

    By doing so, it will be easier for you to elicit the intended emotional response from your listeners.

  • Match your voice with your words.

    Similar to the previous point, you have to be mindful if your message is properly communicated to your audience through your tone of voice.

    For example, if you’re tackling topics about a tragic event, your voice has to be softer and more solemn than usual.

    If you’re talking about an exciting event, your voice has to match that by sounding jolly and merry.

    If you’re delivering a purpose or cause-driven speech, you have to make sure your voice tone is strong, powerful, and authoritative.

    By matching your voice with your words, it will be easier for the audience to feel your emotions and at the same time, let out the emotions they feel about your topic.

Pathos is an important mode of persuasion, but it can also be overdone or used improperly.

In using this persuasive tool, always be sincere and respectful of your audience. Emotional appeals can backfire if listeners feel that you are being phony or manipulative.

Take note as well that you shouldn’t solely rely on pathos because doing so might make your talk less persuasive than a speech or presentation that balances emotional appeal with good reasoning and evidence.

Apply these “Paths to Pathos” and see how you’ll move your audience with a powerful and emotional message!

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Wednesdays: Speak on the Shoulders of Giants”

In a meeting with one person

…a boardroom with five people

…or a huge venue with hundreds of people

—whatever the situation or setting, it’s very important to learn and eventually master the art of public speaking.

No matter what, you always need to effectively get your message across.

What good is a presentation with awesome content if you don’t deliver it properly?

Every Wednesday, we publish different tips, insights, and secrets on how you can improve your presentation skills to captivate your audience and lead interesting discussions.

The need for great presentation skills applies EVERYWHERE.

(Small meetings with your team, big meetings with your boss, an important marketing pitch, speaking engagements for events with a big audience, etc.)

Learning these skills is not just for the corporate world. Being in other industries such as the Arts, Information Technology, Medicine, and Education while knowing how to present well will definitely give you an edge.

Have that advantage.

Hope you’ve found this week’s public speaking tip interesting and helpful.

Stay tuned for next Wednesday’s Speak on the Shoulders of Giants!


Kyle Yu
Head of Marketing
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
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