If you are wondering how to build strong content for your presentation, you might think back to the popular children’s story Goldilocks and The 3 Bears. You’ll remember that Goldilocks happens upon a house in the woods belonging to three bears. While they are away, she enters the house and tries out their possessions, deeming some too hard and others too soft, some too hot and others too cold, always seeking out that balance that feels just right.
Aristotle was essentially telling his students to aim for content that feels “just right” when he instructed them to create balance in messages. He identified different forms of proof, or content that the speaker needed to develop. Often these are called the three pillars of persuasion. Some content, which he termed logos, appeals to logic. Content which he termed pathos, appeals to emotions. The third pillar, ethos, addresses how credible and trustworthy the speaker appears, but we’ll save our discussion of that pillar for another time. Here, I want to concentrate just on the first two pillars as we seek to understand how logos appeals to the head and pathos appeals to the heart.
To further understand the relationship between logos and pathos, try thinking of your presentation like a house. Logos is the foundation of your presentation—it has structure and weight and strength. But pathos—the moments and memories that occur within those walls—is what makes that house a home. You need both: the strong and safe foundation, and the magic of the memories that occur there, both the logos and the pathos.
Using Too Much Logos
When presenters develop their content, it’s important that we understand this important balance. An overreliance on logos will lead to an audience that is overwhelmed or bored. If you try to cover information that is heavy or difficult to process for an extended amount of time, you will lose your audience. We need what I call “brain breaks.” These are moments of pathos placed strategically after a logos-heavy part of your presentation to allow your audience a chance to rest their brains or to process easier information, like a story, for instance. It allows us to switch from thinking to feeling for a little bit.
Using Too Much Pathos
An over reliance on pathos will lead to a presentation that feels fluffy or manipulative. Audience members want you to build proof that is sound and solid. Without a structure, the stories really have no framework to occur within. If an audience member feels that your presentation is largely aimed at making her feel a certain way, the normal human response is to put up barriers to those emotional appeals. A student of mine captured over reliance on pathos perfectly when she said, “Oh, it’s like when the ASPCA commercial with orphaned pets comes on while Sarah McLachlan’s song ‘Arms of Angel’ plays in the background. It’s all too much, so I change the channel immediately!” Exactly. It doesn’t mean the message isn’t valuable. It just means it’s not balanced.
Keep in mind that some of your audience members will be more influenced by logos, while others will largely be persuaded by pathos. Because of differing audience preferences, you’ll need to make use of both in your presentations. The example I like to use to when teaching about the balance between logos and pathos is John Green’s video, “Understanding the Refugee Crisis in Europe, Syria, and Around the World.” In his video, Green makes expert use of information that appeals both to the head and the heart, ultimately making the message both informative and incredibly moving. He weaves together statistics and stories in a way that engages every member of the audience.
For more information on how to develop balanced content that moves your audience, register for our online presentation skills class at presentationmentor.com.