A picture is worth a thousand bullets.

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Greek to Me

Aristotle and his ancient Greek buddies believed the key to good rhetoric was the combination of three things:

1) Ethos - Character appeal

2) Logos - Logical appeal

3) Pathos - Emotional appeal

Credibility. Logic. Emotion. I like to personify these three as the “Spirits of Speech”. Think of them as good friends who like to hang out. If you happened to meet one at a party he wouldn’t be very interesting by himself, but get all three together and they become a dynamic trio that can convince you of anything.

Aristotle was on to something when he first discovered the Spirits back in 300 BCE. It was a major insight into how our brains take in new information and learn; so major we still use it to craft our rhetoric today.

“Rhetoric” in this context is just an academic way of saying persuasion, which is the point of almost every presentation. People give presentations to sell things: ideas, products, services, themselves. You can also think of rhetoric as storytelling.

Spirit Ratio

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It’s not hard to see why a speech is better when it has the right ratio of credibility, logic, and emotion.

When we prepare for speeches the old fashioned way (without slides) we tend to get it right. We intuitively think about the three Spirits and make sure our words strike the right balance between them.

However, the moment a slideshow gets involved people seem to lose their balance. Big time. Almost all of the content people put on their slides comes from Ethos and Logos. Pathos never gets invited to the party.

Think back to the last presentation you saw. The first few slides might have listed the speaker’s credentials in an unconvincing attempt to establish credibility with bullet points. The rest of the slides probably listed facts, and charts, and diagrams that were all intended to impress you with logic. The emotional appeal just wasn’t there, yet this is how a lot of people think slides “should” look.

Since bullet points all too often double as talking points, the speech portion of the presentation also suffers. The result is a credentialed and logical person talking about something no one gives a damn about. The result is a boring presentation.

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Finding Your Pathos

So how do you get emotion into your presentation slides? It’s simpler than you think.

Pictures.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand bullet points. Images have the power to abstract the emotional appeal of your message and evoke feelings in your audience. A picture can tell an elaborate story in an instant. Plus, pictures make your slides much more appealing to look at.

Some of the best presentations I’ve seen used no words on the slides at all, just pictures. While the speakers covered the Ethos and Logos with their words, their slides served as evocative backdrops, setting the mood (the Pathos) for the speech. It reminds me of the way set design and theatrical lighting set the mood for a stage actor’s scene.

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Now don’t go reaching for your Clip Art library. The quality of images matters and Office Clip Art doesn’t cut it.

Photos you’ve taken with your own camera are the best choice, since they likely have a story to go along with them. If those don’t work for the particular presentation you’re working on then stock photography is the way to go. I’ll write more about stock photos and where to get them in a future entry.

Ethos. Logos. Pathos. A presenter’s three best friends. Keep each of them in mind for your next presentation and I promise you’ll be pleased with the results.