Better Speaker in 30 Days | Email 4

Arranging Your Stuff

In the previous episode, as they say on TV… You worked out some answers to why specifically you want to talk, speak or lecture.

In this next phase, which classical rhetoric calls Arrangement, you’ll decide on specific content, and structure.

Arrangement is just a stage in the larger process – a stage in which you examine all your stuff, your material, afresh. Specifically, I’m going to ask you to examine it in the light of two different rhetorical filters.

Sketched hand on keyboard, with some letters and numbers indicated, others blank

Past, Present, Future

This is the first filter. If you speak in the past tense, you will almost inevitably deliver praise / blame, even if it’s only implicit.

The present tense is where you talk about the values that you share with your audience – things you do believe in, and things you strongly oppose. In that sense, it’s an opportunity to knit together a sense of unity.

The future tense is about the choices you / they can make, variously dreadful or thrilling.

As a broad generalisation, talks tend to start in the past and move towards the future; because as you have already established, you are looking to have a particular effect on that particular audience, and that effect can only take place in the future.

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Ethos, Logos, Pathos

Classical rhetoric has given us another important filter through which to consider our material. This involves looking for the right balance of the following ingredients – a balance that varies from one occasion to another.

Credibility. Who is the speaker, in this particular context? Rhetoric calls this Ethos. In practice, this varies enormously.

It is frequently assumed (by people lacking experience) that the speaker needs to be a big expert, incapable of error.

That’s sometimes true (“I speak to you today as the only person who has ever performed this kind of surgery”), but often the opposite applies, and the speaker addresses the audience as peers (“I’m just like you”).

Looking like a big-shot can be alienating. There’s a line that demonstrates this beautifully in the film Notting Hill. (It’s not “public speaking”, because it’s a conversation between two individuals, but I don’t believe that matters.)

It comes when the Hollywood movie star (Julia Roberts) tells the bookshop owner (Hugh Grant) that she’s an ordinary human, with a heart, just like him:

The line has been copied and parodied by many speakers, trying to reach an audience that’s assumed to be indifferent. (“I’m just a humble salesman, trying to make a living.” “I may work in Westminster, but I’m a native Geordie / Scouser like you.” And so on.)

Come to think of it, there are even times when speakers might usefully present themselves as a confirmed ignoramus (“I’m here today to tell you that I don’t have a clue what you are doing. Please help me,” or, “Mr Speaker, I don’t understand why the Prime Minister wants us to invade”).

Reasoning, or Logos. This is about the way in which a speaker builds a case around facts and interpretation of the facts, in order to make that interpretation appear to be the only possible interpretation – or the best available, anyway.

A common mistake, here, is to avoid any alternative interpretations. With experience, speakers learn to address those alternatives head on, and show why they’re mistaken.

Emotion, or Pathos. This can be any kind of emotional expression. “I’m so happy!” “I’ve never felt so lonely.” It needn’t be stated explicitly, with words, if the emotion is obvious – as you saw in that clip from Notting Hill.

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Challenge | Map Your Own

This mind map covers some of the things you might want to consider when auditing your own Ethos, Logos and Pathos.

Make a copy of that mind map, replacing the generalised content with details relating to a specific talk you are going to / might make.

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Till next time.