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How ancient Greek speaking skills can supercharge your presentations

Rhetorical mastery is within everyone’s reach — equipped with some basic techniques you can rock it like Aristotle.
A painting of the Parthenon, an ancient temple with columns and partial ruins, under a clear blue sky. The landscape around it includes scattered stones and minimal vegetation, perfectly capturing the essence of strong presentation skills in historical artistry.
Artvee / Stephanos Lanza
Key Takeaways
  • The rhetorical skillset of the ancient Greeks can help improve our company presentations.
  • Rhetoric comprises three key, interdependent modes of persuasion: ethos (credibility), logos (reason), and pathos (emotion).
  • Ensuring you have an even mix of ethos, logos, and pathos will help you achieve Aristotle’s formula for a perfect argument.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that modern ways of doing things are always better. But some of the tools we take for granted these days have made us lazy. Take presentations, for instance. 

The ancient Greeks didn’t have slides, clickers, and bullet points to help them make their arguments. And arguments are what presentations typically need to be. Most presentations are about wanting to change something, be it the way your audience thinks about something, what they buy, or what they do. 

The real job of presentations is persuasion. Aristotle, like many other great thinkers and speakers of the time, famously relied on the effectiveness of his communication. And the Greek approach to governance and organization remains a key foundation for how we conduct ourselves today. Their philosophy is still something that’s studied and used. I know philosophy can feel complex or out of reach, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re going to look at the basics and see just how easily we can apply them in our own presentations. 

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So, how did the Greeks approach it? They believed in the power of rhetoric to persuade and inform. Rhetoric comprises three key modes of persuasion which convince others to accept your argument: ethos (credibility), logos (reason) and pathos (emotion). What’s more, all three need to work together. Aristotle believed any imbalance in these tools — let alone omitting one entirely — would significantly reduce the power of one’s argument.

So, let’s dive into each of these modes of persuasion.

#1. Ethos

Ethos is the Greek term for character. In the context of persuasion, it refers to establishing your credibility. In short, why are you, in particular, worth listening to on this topic? If you can give them a good answer to that question, they’re far more likely to engage with your attempt to persuade them. That means they need to understand your experience or expertise. Of course, the fact that some of you are cringing at the idea of “selling yourself” shows that there is a fine line to be walked here. 

No one likes a bragger or a name-dropper. But underselling yourself can be just as damaging to your chances of making an impact with your presentation. Often the right balance can be struck with case studies and examples. Consider mentioning the people you’ve worked with, the praise you’ve received, and any recognition or rewards that you’ve earned.

Academic credentials are often cited in scientific presentations, while businesses might prefer to hear about similar roles you’ve held. Every industry is different, but the question is the same: “Does this person know what they’re talking about?” Figures and statistics are also effective here. It’s much easier to tell an audience that you’ve been coaching for 15 years than it is to tell them that you’re the best coach around!

However you decide to build your credibility with ethos, make sure this happens early. People want to know if you’re worth listening to before you launch into your main message. Start with establishing your authority and go from there. 

#2. Logos

With ethos out of the way, your audience should hopefully be thinking, “Okay, this presenter knows their stuff. So, what have they got to say?” But in fact, you don’t want to start with what. You want to start with why. Because logos, the second mode of persuasion, is all about logic. One thing we do have that the Greeks did not is Google. An endless wealth of information at our fingertips. And that means that giving your audience facts or quotes they could find on their own is simply a waste of everyone’s time. Your presentation should not be a brochure. 

So instead of simply giving them “what,” give them “why”. Explain how you arrived at the main point of your presentation. Walk your audience through the thinking step by step so that they can understand the journey and embark on it with you.

Every industry is different, but the question is the same: “Does this person know what they’re talking about?”

Simon Sinek is famous for his TEDx talk “Start with Why” as a masterful demonstration of this principle. Clients of mine mention that clip so often when they want to supercharge their own presentations. And it’s built on a fundamental point you should keep in mind: Don’t assume your audience will agree with you straight away. Give them the process and the information to make their own decision. If they then end up agreeing with you, they will be far more bought into the conclusion you both share — after all, they did the thinking themselves and arrived there too. 

#3. Pathos

Last but certainly not least of the three elements of rhetoric is the use of emotion. Pathos is often overlooked in presentations, but it can have a huge impact on the power of your delivery and your message. How often do you make decisions based on gut decisions, or how you feel? It’s so quick and easy for us to trust our instincts and go with what feels right. Appealing to emotion adds another layer to your argument. Because emotions and logic are handled in different parts of the brain, activating both of these areas at once strengthens our reaction to what’s being said. But what are the emotions you want to generate in your audience? Let’s start with what to avoid.

How often are you likely to really empathize and agree with someone who resorts to pleading or guilt to get what they want? Sure, you might give in out of pity, but you’re unlikely to really respect and believe what they’re saying. Emotional connection comes from authenticity and vulnerability. When people let us in and show us their own true feelings, we are far more likely to feel a real bond with them. Most often, stories are the best way to add pathos to a presentation. Whether it’s the origin of an idea or product, the lives touched, or the personal hardships that got you to this moment, give your audience a chance to feel the emotion behind your message. 

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We may think of good presenters as nerve-less robots, but the reality is that we’re all human. Use that truth as a source of connection. 

Go Greek with your next presentation

The Greeks are famed for the arguments they presented. And while we have an arsenal of modern tools at our disposal, we sometimes forget the fundamentals of persuasion. The Greeks didn’t need PowerPoint to make powerful points. 

Using Greek philosophy as a base for your presentation can dramatically increase its effectiveness. Ensuring you have an even mix of ethos, logos, and pathos will help you conform to Aristotle’s formula for a perfect argument. 

If you can convince your audience that you are worth listening to, take them on a logical journey towards your conclusion, and tell them a story that appeals to their hearts as well as their minds, you’ll deliver a presentation that makes an impact.

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