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Impactful Presentations: Why Aristotle Knows Best

Claims made in a presentation must be backed up with hard facts, otherwise your audience will lose faith.

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Claims made in a presentation must be backed up with hard facts, otherwise your audience will lose faith.

Guides

Impactful Presentations: Why Aristotle Knows Best

Claims made in a presentation must be backed up with hard facts, otherwise your audience will lose faith.

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Modern technologies are rapidly changing and evolving the way we communicate with each other. It’s a time of instant access to information, 24-hour news cycles and rapidly updated content streams.

This can pose a serious challenge for anyone trying to give a convincing and impactful presentation or speech. With brands battling for people’s attention more than ever, connecting with an audience in a meaningful way is an essential skill for all businesses.

Modern audiences have been conditioned to respond to fast movement, images and videos - and these factors are important to bear in mind. But while the temptation to speak faster, get to the point quicker, and use technology to capture an audience's attention might be big, the secret to a great presentation has, in some ways, remained unchanged for thousands of years.

In fact, as outlined by Aristotle in the 4th century BC, there are three key ingredients that any presenter should consider, if they want to give a memorable presentation: ethos, pathos and logos - applied in equal measures. So, on a practical level, how can someone working on a presentation in 2018, achieve all three?

Trust and authority

As Aristotle put it, ethos is about "the personal character of the speaker". Can they be trusted? Are they speaking with authority? Do they manage to connect with their audience on a deeper level? In most cases, a speaker doesn't have a prior relationship with their audience.

They are, for all intents and purposes, strangers. So, in order to establish trust and authority in a relatively short period of time, presenters need to come across as credible and knowledgeable from the moment they walk on stage or into a meeting room.

They can do so by starting the presentation with a brief introduction to themselves, highlighting any relevant experience in the process. This will give the rest of the presentation more weight and really position the presenter as a credible voice on the subject they're presenting on.

One way to build that trust is to engage an audience as an equal. Conversational presenting is a style of presenting that creates a two way dialogue between audience and speaker in this way.

A simple way to begin a conversational presentation is to simply ask an audience “What do you want to talk about first?” and allow the audience to guide the presentation from there. It establishes a sense of control and trust for the audience, and positions the presenter as a collaborator.

Once this trust has been established, speakers need to then add depth to this connection by adding an emotional layer.

An emotional connection

To create a truly meaningful relationship between the speaker and their audience, Aristotle recommended using pathos, which means tapping into the emotions of an audience. In the simplest of terms, pathos is used to make an audience care about what is being presented to them.

Arguably, this is the most important pillar, and Aristotle wrote that the other two pillars are much weaker without it. Today, scientists have come to the consensus that people can feel six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, surprise and fear.

Most impactful presentations are centred around one or two of these emotions to get an audience truly invested on a deeper level.

Often, the subject at hand dictates what the emotional narrative of a presentation should be, but to truly bring this to life, speakers need to use examples to paint a picture and capture people's imagination.

This will help the audience relate to the presentation and become much more involved in the discussion. Ultimately, emotions are the key to grabbing people's attention.

The proof in persuasion

Finally, to round off the holy trinity of ancient presentation secrets, speakers need to employ logos, or, as Aristotle calls it, the "proof provided by the words of the speech itself". As the name suggests, logos is all about the logic of the argument. Does the presentation makes sense? Is there evidence that support its claims?

Especially in today's age of fake news, facts and proof points that add validity and credibility to a claim are invaluable in getting people to believe in what is being presented to them. Using the right tools can also aid this belief, and package your proof in a persuasive format.

Harvard University recently found in a double-blind study that presentations with Zooming User Interfaces - rather than static, linear slides - were more persuasive, engaging and effective.

Speakers that truly want to get an audience on their side need to backup every claim they make with a fact, engage an audience emotionally and maintain a sense of authority and trust. If there is any doubt lingering over the presentation about the truthfulness of its claims, the speaker will have failed in their mission to persuade their audience.

Spencer Waldron is  European Regional Director at Prezi.

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Impactful Presentations: Why Aristotle Knows Best

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