The 2002 film My Big Fat Greek Wedding reminded audiences that many words in the English language derive from the Greek language, and their word ethos forms the basis for several words, including ethics, ethology, and ethnicity. Literally translated from the Greek, it means “spirit” or “character” and forms the basis of a speaker’s credibility or persona. A speaker’s ethos essentially represents personal appeal, or how an audience views a speaker or the speaker’s image that he or she portrays outwardly. Think of ethos as the first impression imparted by a speaker.
Ask yourself these questions to help think critically about how to establish a solid ethos:
- How will you generate respect from your audience?
- How will you create a connection or rapport with your audience?
- How will you build trust with your audience?
To begin, one way to gain the respect of an audience is to establish expertise, a reputation, or a closeness with respect to the topic. Biology majors speaking about biological pathogens should establish their experience in the beginning of a speech. If a person with extensive experience working on cars speaks about changing oil, he or she better explain that early in the speech as well. Speakers discussing the dangers of drunk driving who have unfortunately lost a close family member to the practice forge a that closeness that can earn the audience’s respect if they reveal that detail about themselves.
Secondly, generate rapport with the audience by seeking out similarities with them. Students talking to students should use that knowledge to their advantage. Be sure to adapt to the “style” of the audience, similar to the way a chameleon changes color to adapt to its environment. This includes adapting the style of the visual aids, the language used, clothing and appearance, and even mannerisms to reflect the audience. Essentially, the more similarities the audience notices between the speaker and themselves, the easier the speaker will find it to establish rapport.
Trust remains one of the most difficult items regarding ethos to build and maintain. Begin the quest to earn trust before the audience can even begin to formulate a first impression. Show up early. Dress for the occasion. The way a speaker looks will make a strong first impression. Be prepared, and demonstrate that readiness in advance. Stand tall and confidently (even if nervous—revisit Chapter 2 for techniques to help moderate this) to establish credibility early in the speech (third step in the introduction) and do so sincerely. While progressing through the speech, use easily identifiable stories to illustrate the main points, and even better, share personal stories to help the audience form a connection. Use familiar language to avoid overwhelming the audience with an impressive vocabulary; using “big words” can often turn an audience away. Reference the people in the audience, such as referring to an earlier speech, highlighting similarities or parallels between the topics, or referencing the audience survey, if possible.
Trust is built one step at a time, but combining these seemingly minor details together interlock with one another to build a trustworthy and inherently believable sense of ethos.