Rhetoric, Part Three: Pathos

11.10.2021 |

Episode #9 of the course How to write a great speech: Linguistics, drama, and rhetoric by K.C. Finn


We’ve spent a lot of time talking about some very technical aspects of speechcraft, from the small details of how our words sound to the credibility of the person behind them. You’ve had some opportunity to talk about your personal link to the topic you’re discussing, but what about how you feel about the subject? What about how your audience might feel too?

In Lesson Nine, we finish off the three-pronged approach to the world of Rhetoric with an exploration of Pathos. In this emotive mindset, we’ll make sure that those last touches to your speech make it so that fellow listeners in the audience can relate and emote along with your words, making them all the more memorable and convincing.


What Is Pathos?

Whilst ethos deals with who you are and logos deals with the logical way that you express your position, pathos is where we work on getting your audience to feel the importance of the topic with you. Pathos is all about expression and feelings, it’s your chance to convince others that how you feel about an issue is valid. If you’re writing to persuade and motivate them, then it’s also your chance to ensure that they become as passionate as you by the end of your speech.


How Does It Feel?

Whether you’re a teacher trying to get students to understand a topic that you adore, but they might think is dry and boring; or an advertiser speaking to demonstrate a wonderful new product that you want everyone at your convention to invest in, there’s an emotional relevance to the words you’re writing and speaking. It’s important to take a moment to assess which emotions exactly you feel yourself, and what you want to reach in others.

Are they hopeful, joyful, inspirational, and exciting? Are those feelings angry, rebellious, forceful, and action-inducing? Or is your speech a mixture of something, leading from the funny to the series, or the tragic through to the uplifting? Setting this down at the draft stage can help you edit and refine to make sure your feelings are always on track.

Exercise: How do you feel about the topic, person, place, or event you’re writing the speech about? Have you conveyed these feelings authentically so far in the work? Are you holding back, and if so, for what reason? It’s important to identify this now so you can make connections with those who will be listening to your speech.


Stirring Up Emotion in Others

Once you’ve examined your own feelings on the topic at hand, it’s time to work on yet more rehearsals to ensure you’re getting those feelings across to other people. A stirring speech will place emphasis on you as the speaker (and your position, or ethos), the relevant information you want people to know (your logos for speaking), and hit the hearts of listeners by sharing your emotional reasons for being so connected to the stuff you’re talking about (and that’s where pathos comes in). Use your physical speaking techniques from the drama section to practice adding subtle emotional moments to your speech. And if you can’t find places to emphasize in your current draft, this exercise will help you identify where you have space to add them in.

As always, it’s important not to overdo things, so there’s no need to fill every sentence with pathos and come off as overly dramatic. There’s a reason that the word ‘pathetic’ comes from pathos, after all!

Exercise: Examine your choice of words and examples, as well as anywhere that you have used the personal pronoun I in your speech. What emotions do your word choices convey? (Think of connotation here too!) Are there more emotive words that you can add in and emphasize to make sure your audience feels the same way about the topic as you do?

In the final lesson of this course, we’ll bring together all the elements you’ve learned to ensure that you have a fool-proof checklist for speech perfection. Make sure you have a decent draft to hand when you take on Lesson Ten!

For now, have a good heart to heart with yourself.



Recommended reading

For further information on the subtle art of pathos in speeches, you can check out this article.


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