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11.6: Pathos

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    Man delivering a speech.Pathos, like ethos, inspired a significant number of words in the English language, such as pathogen, pathetic, pathological, sympathy, empathy, apathy, and many more, all derived from the Greek for “suffering” or “experience.” Pathos refers to emotional appeal in the context of the rhetorical triangle. Human beings act as highly emotive animals, and they base their decisions primarily on their emotions. In fact, almost all decision making takes place in the limbic brain, which is responsible for those “gut feelings” and yet, this region of the brain has no capacity for language. For public speakers, this means that tapping into the audience’s emotions can persuade them to take just about any action desired. However, that also means pathos is often the most easily manipulated of the three components of the rhetorical triangle.

    To begin thinking about how to utilize emotional appeals in a persuasive speech, first consider how the central idea ties to specific emotions, as well as how each individual main point evokes emotion. For example, a speaker wanting to persuade people to work on their public speaking delivery would not name the speech “How to speak in public better” when naming it “How to conquer your fears of public speaking” evokes a much stronger emotional response.

    Note to Self

    Always try to find the emotional tie-in with the material you plan on presenting by asking yourself, “How do I want my audience to feel about this?”

    Next, think about the emotions evoked by the language within the speech, for certain words have stronger emotional connotations, such as the difference between “injured veteran” and “wounded warrior.” Language can potentially frame the message in such a way as to encourage development of certain emotions in the audience. Consider the use of rich analogies and/or metaphors here as well, such as stating “Terrified, you suddenly feel like you’re drowning in quicksand,” versus saying “When fear hits, you feel as though you cannot move.”

    Woman delivering a speech.As with establishing ethos, using stories can also build an emotional connection to the message. Consider the difference between two speeches on cancer, where one revealed nothing but facts and statistics to demonstrate advancements in cancer research, while the other one told deeply rich and emotionally heavy stories about people who had survived bouts with cancer thanks to research breakthroughs. Which one would potentially be more moving to convince an audience to donate money to research? Odds are, the money goes to the speaker who told the most compelling story.

    Not only can speakers make that connection through the usage of stories, but they can also enhance pathos through the variety of visual aids displayed during the presentation. Imagine telling the story of a cancer survivor and seeing images of that person going through treatment, only to come out the other side of that treatment looking happy, healthy, and surrounded by loved ones. When people can see such emotions being played out in front of them instead of simply having information told to them, they naturally feel a significantly greater connection to the topic.

    Above all, when dealing with pathos, be genuine and authentic, not forced. Speakers should allow their emotions to come through in their delivery. The vocal tone should match the level of emotion the speaker wishes to convey. Speakers with a heavier, serious, or somber topic should slow down their speaking rate, and be deliberate about how serious they sound. On the other end of the spectrum, speakers intending to deliver a more upbeat, positive, and happy speech might want to avoid sounding as monotonic as the high school teacher in the classic 1980s film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

    Lastly, when it comes to intentionally deciding which emotions to evoke, consider this: associate the message and its point of view with positive emotions (happiness, satisfaction, contentment, love, belonging, etc.), while lumping competing perspectives with more negative emotions (guilt, fear, obligation, jealousy, sadness, disappointment, etc.).

    This page titled 11.6: Pathos is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Josh Misner and Geoff Carr via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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