How can Aristotle and the 3 Musketeers help you with your communication skills?

So - three Frenchmen and an Ancient Greek walk into a bar – no, seriously, this is not a joke!

A couple of years ago I was introduced to Aristotle’s three appeals of rhetoric - Pathos Ethos and Logos - in Sam Leith’s wonderful book about the art of rhetoric ‘You Talking to Me?’ (2011 Profile Books).

The three appeals, Pathos (emotion), Ethos (credibility) and Logos (logic) have come into focus recently as more and more businesses and business leaders are moving away from the traditional PowerPoint presentation and are instead looking to use story and rhetorical form as a way to get ideas across to clients and colleagues.

The three appeals are a useful framework for both writing and critiquing a speech. Traditionally business communication has focused almost exclusively on Logos: the business case, the logical argument, the WHY. It has often done this in a very dry way, perhaps with a nod to the second appeal Ethos (letting the audience know some of the background as to why the speaker is credible in relation to their topic). The third appeal Pathos – the appeal ‘to our emotions’ – has been sadly neglected, but now with the increasing popularity of Ted Talks and stories, the appeal to the emotions is being returned to its rightful place: stage centre.

“But what have the three Musketeers got to do with all this?” I hear you say!

Well in his brilliant book, Sam Leith makes the neat observation that the three Musketeers are a simple way to remember Aristotle’s three appeals: Porthos, Athos, & Aramis = Pathos, Ethos, & Logos.

I have been using this analogy effectively in my coaching work with Dramatic Resources for some time, but this weekend I was challenged by a passionate admirer of the writer Alexandre Dumas. I was using the analogy in a session on public speaking at IMD Business School in Lausanne, when the participant – an executive from the wonderful charity Terre Des Hommes spoke up strongly:

“No,” she said, “You’ve got it all wrong.”

Porthos is not PathosPorthos is the big strong one with the credibility of a fighter. He would represent Ethos.

Athos,” she said, on a roll now, “who is the cold hard strategist of the trio, would represent Logos, Logic."

And then, she concluded triumphantly, “Aramis - the Lover, the romantic, the man of feeling - would represent Pathos, the appeal to the emotions.”

As a result of this surprising conversation, Aristotle’s relationship to the three musketeers has became even more real to me. Porthos, Ethos, and Aramis are no longer just a mnemonic to help me remember Aristotle – they are characters directly linked to the quality of Aristotle’s appeals - their personalities making truly memorable the need to communicate with logic, with credibility and with emotion. Once again, this proved to me the power of story – of people, places & things - to help us engage and remember.

So...If the three musketeers represent Aristotle’s Pathos, Ethos & Logos, then what does D’Artagnan, the fourth musketeer and hero of Dumas novel represent?

Let’s find out in my next post - Who is the 4th Musketeer?