You hear it from us all the time…
That’s still true.
But there’s a Force more powerful than logic or emotion…
And it’s you.
Same as it Ever Was
First, what do we know about effective persuasion?
- We can now scan and record human brain activity in controlled tests, and the results continue to verify decades-old social psychology studies on persuasion.
- Those same social psychology studies confirmed the effectiveness of centuries-old persuasion techniques practiced by sales people, savvy politicians, and smart parents.
- And those very techniques originate with the observations of the ancient Greeks and Romans over 2,000 years ago, who developed the art of rhetoric to effectively persuade the masses of the day.
It’s a cliché, but the more things change, the more they stay the same. In other words, technology, media, and cultural context are dramatically different and ever evolving, but human beings respond fundamentally the same way we always have.
And when it comes to persuasion, people respond to a person’s perceived character way more than logic. Strong character can even defeat an eloquent emotional appeal in many persuasion duels.
So let’s take a closer look.
The Origin of the Force
The ancient art of rhetoric is based on three compelling components:
- Logos is an appeal to pure logic and reason.
- Pathos is an appeal to the desires, fears, passions, and other emotions of the audience.
- Ethos is an appeal to the authority, honesty, and credibility of the person speaking or writing.
Of the three, Aristotle said ethos may well be the most effective means of persuasion a person possesses. And while general reputation certainly comes into play, Aristotle further said that ethos is best demonstrated through the tone and style of the messages you deliver.
That’s right – the content of your character is determined by the character of your content. Here are three powerful ways to strengthen the force of your ethos.
The Force is Strong in Those Who…
1. Show Some Decorum
Ethos is driven first and foremost by virtue, with a twist. Rather than an inherent trait, virtue is perceived by the audience when they believe you share and uphold the same values they do. You connect with them when you satisfy their expectations.
The ancient Romans called this meeting of audience expectations decorum. It’s not necessarily about being prim and proper – after all, the best person to persuade a gang of drunken bikers to sleep it off is likely one of their own, not the local schoolmarm.
In short, you can’t lead a tribe that thinks you don’t belong – and it’s totally up to them to decide if you fit in. So if the idea of changing to meet the expectations of an audience doesn’t sit well with you, you’ll have to attract an audience that naturally fits with who you already are.
Luckily, that’s what the Internet is famous for.
2. Have Han Solo Authority
There’s no doubt that Han Solo is a pragmatic bad ass. Whether you’re raiding the spice mines of Kessel, rescuing a rebel princess, or seeking just-in-time help at a murderous moon-sized space station, Solo is the likable, talented, practical pro for the job.
In terms of ethos, you want to display similar practical wisdom to increase your persuasive mojo. Be the likeable street-smart authority whose content helps get things done, not an aloof academic expert looking down from the lectern.
You don’t have to be perfect (Solo sure isn’t). In fact, letting your flaws flow increases your authenticity and strengthens the bond with those you’re trying to reach. When it comes down to it, all that matters is you know your stuff and deliver.
A Wookie sidekick is nice, but optional.
3. Exhibit Jedi Leadership
The final key element of an ethos that persuades is the goodwill and receptivity cultivated between you and the audience. This is usually best accomplished when people feel you are acting out of selfless leadership, without a vested interest or ulterior motive.
“Wait a minute Brian,” you’re saying about now. “I do have a vested interest. I want to sell stuff and build my business!” Okay, I hear you (and these voices in my head are freaking me out a bit).
That’s where we come back once again to valuable free content. Even while naturally promoting you and your business, great content with independent value is nonetheless a gift to your market. As long as you’re transparent (and unapologetic) about the reason you’re providing the content, you’re exhibiting effective leadership that entitles you to pull Jedi mind tricks at will.
Put the audience first and you’ll get what you want in return. Everyone wins.
Jedi Mind Tricks Without Going to the Dark Side
A strong perceived ethos is powerful stuff, which is why many have faked congruent character for fun and profit over the centuries. Church, state, and aristocracy have all seen healthy amounts of character manipulation thanks to the persuasive power of ethos.
Social media seems ripe for similar shenanigans. But great content can’t be faked, and a worldwide reach means you can be you and attract like-minded people who think you rock just the way you are. So there’s no need to go to the dark side of the Force to fit in.
Freed from the tyranny of geography, the Internet allows us to avoid being character chameleons and be authentic instead. Smart online marketers realize they don’t need a tiny niche topic to lead a tribe, because they themselves are the niche.
Never forget it’s all about the audience. But it’s you who has the appeal.