Persuasive Strategies Using Ethos

Learning Objectives

Define persuasive strategies using ethos.

Ethos is the way a speaker establishes their credibility and conveys to the audience that they can be trusted.

Ethos is important in any kind of speech situation, but it is especially important when trying to persuade an audience. If your audience doesn’t view you as credible and trustworthy, they likely aren’t going to be persuaded by your argument. Therefore, it can be helpful to explain to your audience why you are a credible source they should give consideration to.

Through the course of delivering your arguments and sharing reliable, credible supporting evidence, you can demonstrate to your audience that you have taken the time to understand your topic and the evidence behind your argument.

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab provides writers concrete tips on being a credible author.  Many of these tips also apply just as well to speakers, including:

  1. Use only credible, reliable sources. Cite those sources properly.
  2. Show you have an open mind about your topic by acknowledging beliefs and values on both sides of the argument in an accurate way.
  3. Explain why you are interested in this topic. If you have personal experience, share it.
  4. Organize your argument in a logical and easy-to-follow manner. [1]

The last point is especially important in a speech because your audience won’t have the option to re-read the parts of your speech they find hard to follow.

To Watch: ANna Maria Chávez, Girl Scouts National convention 2011

When Anna Maria Chávez gave this speech in 2011, she had just been appointed CEO of Girls Scouts of the USA. Her speech thus had a double function: to celebrate the convention and the organization, but also to introduce herself to the viewers—both at the convention and around the world. The first part of her speech is a classic appeal to ethos, both establishing her credibility and demonstrating her commitment to the Girl Scouts. Chávez does this by telling the story of how she became a girl scout and what she learned from Girl Scout camp (starting at 3:56):

One day my best friend when I was ten years old came to school and said, “I’m going to be a Girl Scout.” And I said, “Well, I want to be a Girl Scout too!” And then I thought, “What does that mean?” So I ran home and I told my parents and my grandmother—my Nana—that I was going to Girl Scout camp. And my Nana, she said, “Mi hija, no, no, no, we came from the migrant camp, we don’t go back that way.” But I wanted to go, and so I went!

Shortly after attending Girl Scout camp, Chávez says, she saw a situation she wanted to change. Her mother said, “Well, Anna Maria, what do we do in these instances?” Eventually, young Anna Maria realized that she needed to become a lawyer if she wanted to change things, and so, she says, “As a Girl Scout, by then the age of 12, I was headed to law school.”

The next part of her story demonstrates another facet of ethos: by telling the story of going to Yale, and then law school, and then becoming advisor to “a U.S. president, a vice president, two cabinet secretaries, three federal administrators, two governors, and a husband,” she establishes that she has the authority and credibility to lead a national organization. (The “…and a husband” joke demonstrates humor and relatability, which are as important as impressive credentials in appealing to ethos).

You can view the transcript for “Anna Maria Chavez 2011 National Convention Speech 1 of 2” here (opens in new window).

What to watch for:

Chávez starts her speech by talking about some of the events she’s visited at the convention. If you’re speaking as part of a multi-part event, it can be good to open with a quick discussion of some of the other remarkable things that have happened at the event, things that impressed you, things you’ve learned, or memories you’ll take away.

Try It