A 3 point persuasion formula

At the beginning of the year, I published a post about persuasion. It was aimed at those of you who want or need (albeit gently) to persuade. It included a pretty simple but effective formula but sadly, when my website ran into difficulties earlier this year, it was one of the posts that got lost.

But the formula is so simple (and has been tried and tested, not over years or decades but over thousands of years), that I thought it was worth re-writing the post. After all, everyone needs to persuade, don’t they?

Entertain and inform, not sell

Yup, I hear you. Everything we learn these days about creating content and selling our services, focuses on educating, informing or entertaining, building relationships and being of value. Avoid the hard sell like the plague. It’s all good advice. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know how to be persuasive, whether you’re writing an email campaign, a blog or delivering a presentation. And the formula I’m about to give you, isn’t a hardcore, twist their arm into buying type formula.

It’s a natural way of highlighting your expertise and credibility and influencing someone’s choice or view. It’s done not by arm twisting but by presenting the facts in the most compelling way possible and tapping into the inherent human mental decision-making process.Sounds good huh?

You could say I’ve read quite a lot about persuasion, from Cialdini and his 6 points of persuasion to Kolenda and his 9 point formula and a whole lot in between. And it’s all great stuff. But one formula seems to encapsulate all the others while remaining devastatingly simple.  To be fair, I can’t take credit for it. I’ve pinched it. But the formula’s creator won’t mind at all because he’s been dead since 322 BC.

Don’t be put off by its age because this persuasion formula is easy to remember and works a treat. So, drum roll please and cue Aristotle’s Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Or rather my interpretation of.

The 3 pillars of persuasion – Ethos, Pathos and Logos

3 pillars of persuasion

Aristotle described Ethos, Pathos and Logos as the three pillars of persuasion. In my version at least (and I haven’t strayed too far from the original) these stand for: Ethos = credibility, Pathos = emotional connection/resonance and Logos = logic and fact. Include those 3 elements and you’re on to a winning formula.

Aristotle believed that Logos should be the most important of the three persuasive appeals. But even as a master of logical reasoning, Aristotle had to admit that Logos alone is not enough and is no more important than either of the other two.


Ethos was originally defined by Aristotle as trustworthiness. But we need to get into a bit more detail than that.

There’s a great series of articles by Six Minutes in which they explain ethos today as:

  1. Having Authority (relative to the audience) and Expertise (relative to the topic). In other words, credibility.
  2. Similarity (to the audience) / Likeability
  3. Trustworthiness (as perceived by the audience).

In short, to persuade an audience to accept anything you say, they need to accept you as credible, trustworthy and likeable. And It isn’t enough for you to know that you are. Your audience or readers need to know and believe it too.

But how do you establish all this? Well here’s a few tips:

 Establishing ethos

  • If you can, prepare your audience in advance. If you can avoid it, don’t introduce yourself. You want them primed & aware of your authority before you start. If you’re doing a presentation, make sure someone else introduces you. If it’s a blog you’re writing, make sure your profile is easy to access or that you have a short bio on the blog page itself. There’s a huge role for branding to play here too. The better, more well-known your branding – the better your credibility.
  • Look carefully in your bag of life experience. You may have authority and expertise that you didn’t realise. When I first left the Bar and started writing for a living, I rarely mentioned that I was a barrister. It didn’t seem relevant. And yet, for some that gives me huge kudos. In fact, it makes people sit up and listen! There’s some really interesting research dating back decades about the powerful influence someone in a position of authority has. So dig deep and see what you have to offer from your past.
  • Tell stories or use case studies to demonstrate your experience and enhance your audience’s understanding. (And by default, make it more memorable and compelling). You could perhaps start with a story which showcases your expertise right from the start.
  • Use statistics, quotes, research and other data. This also helps with the Logos element. Take advantage of the “halo” effect – if you quote well-known experts, some of their credibility may rub off on you!

How to be likeable

 We like what seems familiar and/or similar. And we’re more likely to be persuaded by someone we like.

So research and know your audience. Understand the language they use, what worries them, where they come from. Identify any link between you and them – age, gender, race, culture, economic status, affiliations etc. Unconscious bias is at work here. That gut instinct. You’ll be surprised how, if given the choice, people will favour someone who shares something in common with them. Perhaps you come from the same town, support the same football club etc. 

Use the word you and consider the use of “we” to make it conspiratorial. And remember even if writing for corporates, it’s an individual who’s reading. Drop pompous language and jargon.  Make eye contact. Use rhetorical questions. You can also use compliments – but do so sparingly or you’ll just come across as sleazy.

Establishing trust

Although establishing trust is a long game, there’s a couple of quick wins that can be had. Acknowledge a negative issue, objection or mistake early on. Acknowledging a negative with a careful transitional word and then building the positive case is a powerful technique. Remember Queen Elizabeth I…

“I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too…” It’s alleged by some to be part of one of her most successful and inspiring speeches of all.

Remember, if you have great ethos…your audience is listening and attentive from your first word. They expect that you have something valuable to say, and they want to know what it is. That makes them more likely to be persuaded by you. Poor ethos doesn’t pull in the crowds.


Pathos is an appeal to the emotions of the audience. Emotions engage us and are memorable. You remember how someone made you feel even if you don’t remember what they said.

Positive emotions (e.g. surprise, joy, awe) should be associated with your claims, or your “side” of the persuasive argument. Negative emotions (e.g. fear, contempt, disappointment) should be associated with the other side of the argument.

Dr Antonio Damasio: Emotions, Reasons and the Human Brain

Research by Damasio in the 1990s established that emotions are fundamentally important to the decision-making process, more so than logic. Research involving patients with brain injuries that resulted in them not being able to experience emotion (I’m paraphrasing here), revealed they were also unable to make decisions.

There’s lots of other research about emotion and the decision-making process with well-known statistics such as emotion being 90% of the decision-making process. I won’t bore you with it all here, but if you want someone to make that decision, you are going to have to engage their emotions.

Emotion will hopefully form part of the Ethos element (that emotional connection between you and your audience) but can and probably will, extend beyond that.

Some emotions are super influential!

Fear  – Communicators that present frightening features can be more persuasive. The risk of bad eating is more persuasive than the benefits of good eating for example.

Surprise and Curiosity  – these get and can hold our attention.

Friendship / a sense of belonging  – the power of peer group pressure is well known. We like to feel a sense of belonging.

How to engage emotion?

Well, this comes back to knowing your audience and identifying the relevant emotions. Choose words carefully and use emotionally charged and action based words. Find the passion behind your message.

Another great technique which I wrote about on LinkedIn recently and will be visiting again soon is storytelling. Stories are powerful because they have the potential to evoke surprise, curiosity, mystery and more. They’re memorable.  We are hard-wired to listen to them and remember them.

Photographs, images or items can all evoke emotion. But be genuine because nothing does more harm than fake.


Ah, Logos! Logos is the Greek root word from which the English logic is derived. So, it isn’t surprising that it’s often equated with “logical reasoning” or “an argument based on reasoning”.

So this is where your facts, research, statistics and social proof all comes in. Your evidence in short.

There’s lots of really interesting research into whether you should have more logic based arguments or less. i.e. does a thick and heavy book denote an intellectually superior argument to a flimsy flyer? But honestly, I’ve detained you here in this blog for long enough so that will have to wait for another day.

Some final tips for presenting your evidence

  • People can remember 4 to 9 pieces of information short term, so group your information and use sub-headings or labels
  • Start and end with your most compelling argument
  • If speaking, position yourself first or last to be most memorable
  • Make sure you have a logical sequence that leads to the conclusion you want
  • Use the word because to justify your argument. Even if it’s nonsense. You’ll have to trust me on that one (more research that I’ve not got the space to dive into here).

There’s a lot more

Of course, there’s a lot more to persuasion than I can possibly outline in a 1700 word blog. And you can do a lot worse than studying Robert Cialdini’s Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion.

But for an easy to remember formula to give your writing or speech that element of persuasion, remember to ask yourself – have I included all three pillars: credibility, emotion and logic?


Oh for any of you struggling to blog regularly, feel free to check out my new blog package. It could be just what you’re after!