Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

“On our team, we have seasoned presenters who are comfortable speaking in person. But virtual is new to ALL of us,” said a client recently before a training.

There is a lot of attention focused on how to communicate in a virtual medium; is it too much attention?

We see a lot of people getting so caught up in the technology that they overlook the strategy. In fact, despite this new virtual medium, the principles of persuasion remain unchanged. They are as old (and older) than Aristotle and just as relevant now as they were two thousand years ago.


Whether you are presenting virtually or in person, here are three modes of persuasion from Aristotle’s Rhetoric which you can use, taken from our Founder and CEO Allison Shapira’s book Speak with Impact: How to Command the Room and Influence Others (HarperCollins Leadership). Aristotle writes that speakers persuade an audience through a combination of three elements: ethos, logos, and pathos.

Ethos: Your Authority and Credibility

Whenever you address an audience, your credibility and authority do a lot of the talking. If you are viewed as credible and knowledgeable, then your audience will be more inclined to listen to you. Perhaps it’s your title of CEO that led to the panel invitation you received. But your ethos doesn’t just come from your title; it also comes from your experience. Maybe you’re new to the company but you have twenty years of experience in the field: that experience is part of your ethos.

For virtual presentations, ethos is critical because you are engaged in a constant battle for people’s attention. Your ethos reminds them why they should listen to you instead of opening up a different browser to start reading the news.

When crafting your pitch or presentation, think about what experience you can call on and mention it during your presentation. Alternatively, if someone will be introducing you, consider having them mention it in their introduction.

Logos: Your Logic and Argumentation

The words you use matter. Your language and argumentation matter. Logos is about your ability to craft a logical argument and present facts that reinforce your position. When your speech rambles with no end in sight and your arguments don’t make sense, you lack logos and are less persuasive.

In a virtual setting, your logos is critical: your argument has to be crisper and more concise than it ever was in person in order to keep people engaged. As you prepare your presentation, start with a structural outline to make sure your arguments flow from one point to the next.

To many, logos is the most obvious of the three modes of persuasion. However, while facts and logic are a crucial component of your persuasive argument, they will be even more powerful when you include the third mode: pathos.

Pathos: Your Passion and Emotion

If you don’t believe in what you are saying, you can’t persuade others. If you don’t care about your subject, then your audience won’t care either. Pathos is less about logic and more about your passion for or interest in what you are saying. Pathos appeals to people’s emotions, and emotion is a very strong persuasive element. Every speech is an opportunity to build a relationship of trust with your audience: we do that by showing that we are real people with real emotions.

Emotions are universal – whether on camera or in person. Telling a personal story is one example of using pathos; asking the audience to imagine a vivid scenario is another. After describing statistics to illustrate a trend, a single story can make those statistics come alive with meaning.

In a virtual presentation, you might be tempted to cut out pathos: I recommend that you keep it in, because it’s a powerful way to connect with your audience, and these days we are craving connection more than ever, as Allison’s recent virtual course at Harvard taught me.

Ethos, logos, pathos – a persuasive presentation will utilize all three in different ways depending on your audience and the goal of your pitch. As you prepare your next pitch or presentation, put aside the medium for a minute and focus on the message. What balance of ethos, logos, and pathos will work for your audience? Armed with this information, you will deliver a persuasive presentation – either in person or virtually.