What Is Ethos? The Importance of Building Trust With Your Audience

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Have you ever wondered why some speakers captivate us, compelling us to agree before they’ve even finished presenting their argument? That magic is often not just what they say but how they present themselves. We’re talking about ethos. It’s a rhetorical appeal that builds trust between a speaker and their audience. Ethos isn’t merely a fancy term from ancient Greece; it’s the backbone of persuasive speaking and writing.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle introduced us to ethos, along with logos and pathos, as the three pillars of rhetoric. But unlike its counterparts focusing on logic or emotion, ethos leans heavily into the character of the speaker or writer. From historical figures like Winston Churchill to modern-day influencers wielding social-media savvy, strong ethos has been key to swaying opinions and inspiring action.

Understanding Ethos

Ethical appeal or “ethos” originates from the Greek word “ethos,” meaning character. It reflects credibility or an ethical appeal which convinces an audience through the authority or credibility of the persuader.

As we mentioned above, ethos is a concept that goes way back to ancient Greece and a philosopher named Aristotle. Aristotle thought a lot about persuasive arguments. In time, he broke down the art of persuasion into three key ingredients: ethos, logos, and pathos. These rhetorical appeals are all different ways of getting your point across effectively and memorably.

But let’s zoom in on ethos. Ethos helps make a message stick because it taps into the speaker’s credibility. When you exercise ethos in your argument, you are essentially presenting your audience with reasons for why they can trust you. Are you an expert in your field? Have you done a lot of research? Do you exhibit a trustworthy character through your demeanor? The more reasons an audience has to trust you, the more persuasive your argument will be.

Building a Strong Ethos

Ever wondered why some speakers just seem to click with their audience? Well, that’s ethos at work. Building a strong ethos isn’t just about flaunting your credentials; it’s about connecting on a deeper level with your audience. To build trust and strengthen ethos, start by showing you’re one of them. Share stories, mishaps, or life lessons that showcase your harmony with the ideals and convictions of those you’re speaking to. When your audience realizes that they share common ground with you, they are much more likely to listen to you with an open mind. So don’t just spout data, make a connection, because integrity and authenticity mark the path to success.

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How to Use Ethos in Your Speech

Now that you have some context for ethos, let’s talk about how to implement it into your persuasive speech.

  • Show don’t tell: Instead of saying “I’m an expert,” use stories from your life that prove it.
  • Cite credible sources: Referencing studies or experts boosts your argument’s weight. Show that you have a firm basis for your arguments.
  • Earn your stripes: Talking about your journey can be just as powerful as listing accolades. Transparency builds trust.
  • Create common ground: Landing on shared values helps readers see where you’re coming from. Chances are, they’ll hang around eager for what comes next.
  • Be grammatically spot-on: To be recognized as a professional, you have to talk like one. Structure your argument well and avoid using slang in order to maintain professionalism.

Achieving strong ethical appeal means letting readers into our world bit by bit. Demonstrate the value in lending you their ears. What makes YOU tick? And before long, they’re leaning in, hooked on every word.

Ethos in Modern Contexts

Ethos isn’t just applicable to persuasive speeches and essays. Say you’re a business owner and you’re trying to build your client base. Using ethos, you can create social media posts that attract the clients you’re looking for. Remember, all you’re doing is demonstrating your expertise and telling stories that highlight shared values. When a brand openly communicates its ups and downs, triumphs, and hurdles, it forges a genuine bond with those who follow its story.

For instance, say you’re running a financial technology or “fintech” startup. On your social media page, don’t just talk about rates and numbers. Instead, share stories of real people achieving their financial dreams because of your help. Then, explain how you helped them and why your strategies are effective.

Alternatively, maybe you’re part of a company like HelloFresh that sells meal kits. Companies like these aim to sell an experience: the joy of cooking something new and delicious right in your kitchen while saving time. These are values that you can highlight through social media posts. In this way, you’ll connect with clients that also share those values.

Using platforms like social media, you can amplify your ethos far beyond traditional boundaries. So if you’re a business owner or part of a marketing team, take note. Using ethos just might be what you need to foster consumer loyalty.

The Power of Tailoring Your Message

To make your message stick, it needs to resonate with your audience on a personal level. That means tailoring your message according to who’s listening. Whether you’re rallying folks around a cause or selling skateboards, tapping into what matters to them is key.

Before you can tailor your message, though, you first have to know your audience. Who are they? What do they care about? Answer these questions, and you’re halfway there. Next, pick the right platforms to communicate with your target audience. Instagram might not be the spot for everyone. Maybe it’s TikTok, email newsletters, or even old-school flyers at local hangouts. Even if you’re selling something, show authenticity. Being real with people help nurture trust and connection. Finally, evoke emotion. Stirring up feelings makes messages memorable, whether it’s joy from remembering an awesome concert or anger at social injustices needing action.

To truly tailor your message means blending insight with creativity. Understanding the context in which our communication will land is crucial for ensuring its success.

Misuse of Rhetorical Appeals

When debates get heated, it’s not uncommon for presenters to start using logical fallacies. As Purdue Owl explains, logical fallacies are “illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points.” While using them may seem to put you ahead of your opponent, they can actually make you appear untrustworthy, thus hurting your ethos.

Avoiding Logical Fallacies

Let’s take a look at a logical fallacy that targets another person’s ethos. This fallacy is called an ad hominem argument. Instead of addressing a person’s claims, this argument attacks a person’s character instead. While insulting an opponent or calling their character into question may feel good in the moment, it ultimately detracts from your argument. Not only are you missing an opportunity to counter your opponent’s claims, you are also making a low blow that calls your own character into question.

This is just one example of how rhetorical strategies can go off the rails. When we misuse these tools, our arguments lose strength and credibility. Sidestep these traps by concentrating on solid logic and consistently backing up your assertions with proof.

At its core, crafting persuasive discourse hinges on thoughtful reasoning bolstered by trustworthy proof. So let’s strive for integrity in our communication, because when we communicate clearly and ethically, everybody wins.

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Evaluating the Credibility of Sources Using Ethos

No doubt, being able to harness ethos for your own persuasive speeches is a vital skill as a speaker. Equally important, however, is being able to recognize the integrity of other speakers and sources.

Determining Source Reliability

Let’s face it, not all sources are created equal. In a world buzzing with info, how do you find trustworthy content? Thankfully, there are clear steps for determining a reliable source. Take a look:

  • Firsthand Experience: Has this person or organization walked the walk? There’s nothing quite like hearing from someone who’s been there and done that.
  • Trustworthy Source: Are they known for their integrity? What sort of reputation do they have?
  • Relevant Experience: If they have experience, is it in the right field? You wouldn’t ask your dentist about car repairs.

Anyone can claim to be an expert these days, and with the rise of TikTok and other social media platforms, the spread of misinformation is all too common. That’s why it’s important to cross-check your facts in addition to your source’s reputation.

The trick isn’t just looking at what’s being said but also who says it and why. Does this source have skin in the game? Are they selling something or genuinely trying to inform? If the source has an agenda (like selling a product), it may be wiser to consider finding a different source for information.


Although it’s a term first used by the ancient Greeks, ethos is still a relevant concept today. When it comes to communication and persuading others of our viewpoint, ethos is essential. That’s why you can find it everywhere today. From TED Talks to your favorite influencer on social media, ethos aims to build trust and credibility between a speaker and their audience.

But you can’t just declare yourself trustworthy. You have to demonstrate your expertise, share your experience through stories, and highlight shared values in order to win your audience over. Embedding ethos into your narrative not only enriches it but also creates strong connections with your audience. So if you want to master the art of persuasion, you first have to understand ethos and prove your integrity.


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