Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to Get Your Message to Your Audience: The Rhetorical Triangle and You

What with social media, the rise of mobile, and shorter attention spans than ever, when you think “content strategy quandary" you’re probably not thinking the answer is Aristotle.

But it probably is.

Writers have been writing about writing for awhile now, and some of the best wisdom turns out to be some of the oldest, in this case, from Aristotle's Rhetoric. Hey--if it’s been working this long, might as well get it to work for you, right?

One of the oldest ways of describing communication is ye olde rhetorical triangle. It’s a simple, graphic way to understand what happens when we talk or write.

We’ve got three things happening in communication--a speaker speaking, an audience receiving, and a message being transmitted. Behold, how we arrange them in a triangle.

Any part can be on any point of the triangle, as far as I’m concerned--in fact, that’s the point. Each point is equally important. Without each part, communication isn’t happening.

Hold onto your hat, things are about to get all Aristotelian up in here.

There are three main ways to get your message from you, speaker, to your audience: appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos.

Ethos--This is the argument you make based You’re such a great person. You’ve been at this a long time. You know what you’re doing. An argument of ethos is based on your character as a credible source.

Logos--Just the facts, ma’mm. Logos is the argument you make based on facts, statistics, rational thinking and logic. Your prices are lower. You’re the top-ranked company in your city. Look at the results of your independent audit, your survey, your pie chart. Ye gods, the pie charts.

Pathos--You know those animal rescue ads with Sarah McLaughlin and incredibly sad animals? (Click here, if you feel like getting your heart ripped out). That, my friend, is an appeal to emotion, aka pathos. You reach into your audience with your heart-warming or bone-chilling story, and they can’t help but be on your side. AKA: giving your audience all the feels.

The communications projects you create for your business or organization may lean more heavily on part of the triangle than on others. If you’re Save the Children, you’re probably going to make a more emotional argument than, say, a software company. But most good communication pieces take a little bit from each point, creating a balanced appeal to reason, credibility, and emotions. 

Which appeal do you find the hardest?