Who is the 4th Musketeer?

More on stories and how to get the tone right!

The Four Musketeers, image courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

The Four Musketeers, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In my last post, I talked about Sam Leith’s brilliant little book on rhetoric, You Talkin’ To Me?,  Leith equates the three musketeers with the three ‘appeals’ of Aristotle: Athos representing the appeal to logic (LOGOS), Porthos representing the appeal to credibility (ETHOS) and Aramais representing the appeal to the emotions (PATHOS). However, the most famous of the musketeers is, of course, D’Artagnan, the central character of Dumas’ novel. D’Artagnan encounters the trio of Athos, Porthos and Aramis and eventually joins to them become the fourth musketeer. But who is the fourth musketeer when it comes to the art of public speaking?

For me the perfect analogy is ‘Story’: D’Artagnan represents the art of storytelling itself. As the great Aaron Sorkin (screenwriter and creator of The West Wing), said ‘The most powerful delivery system ever invented for an idea, is a story’­. All great stories capture our imagination and our emotions (PATHOS) but if a story is really going to convey an idea and convince your audience, it also needs to match Aristotle’s other two appeals ETHOS and LOGOS.

This can be illustrated by three stories told at business events I have attended in my work with Dramatic Resources. All three stories were delivered by senior partners at consultancy firms, to an audience of junior consultants. On one level, they are all good stories. For one thing, they are memorable – one of the stories is from a training session that took place over a decade ago! But we can measure their impact in terms of how they worked or didn’t work on the level of Pathos, Ethos and Logos:  

The first involved a partner talking about the challenges of her first problem-solving session with a really senior client, the founder and CEO of a city trading firm. She described him with full costume: striped shirt, red braces, big belly. She described how intimidated she was by him and how the meeting was going nowhere. She described her feelings of embarrassment and feeling like a failure. Then she delivered her punch line. At the point where she was feeling her lowest, the client leaned forward and said to her (in his cockney accent) “Listen Luv, what we need is: A Big, Fat, Hairy idea!”

Of course, everybody laughed at her story and it immediately endeared her to her young audience. The story worked brilliantly on the level of ETHOS as it built her credibility. She was effectively saying I have been where you are and I know what is like to feel out of your depth. So she ticked Ethos big time. PATHOS is created through the emotive figure of a young consultant facing up to an intimidating city figure and feeling that the meeting is going nowhere.

We can identify with both the situation and the emotions attached. But where is the LOGOS in this story? What is the message her audience was supposed to take away from it as young consultants at the beginning their careers? Her story was funny and endearing - a great ice-breaker but with no obvious message.

My second example had both PATHOS and LOGOS but failed spectacularly on the level of ETHOS. This time the partner was an executive sponsor opening a day’s training session about personal impact and branding. He began in the classic after-dinner guest speaker mode.

“A funny thing happened to me on my way over in the taxi this morning,” (confident, relaxed manner - so far so good.) “Now you need to know, I am not a morning person,” he continued, “I need my double espresso to get me going at 7.00 am. So, on the way here, I got the taxi to pull over at a little Italian coffee shop down a side street I know. I got out of the taxi and suddenly this woman appeared next me wearing a bright red dress and said something to me about money. At first I thought she was a clubber who had been out all night and had lost her purse and needed money to get home - because this dress was, well you know, eye catching, not something you expect a girl to be wearing at 7 in the morning! - But then I realised she was working. That’s right, she was a prostitute!”

At this point, he definitely had our attention – a story about a prostitute was not what we were expecting at a breakfast seminar on Personal Impact. Having got our attention, he continued to LOGOS, to the point of his story.

“Now why am I telling you this?” he asked his audience of young consultants. “Because the two things that you need for Personal Impact and to create your Personal Brand are a) you need to work at it – I mean it’s 7am and this girl was already out on the streets, and b) you need to be distinctive – and I can tell you that red dress was memorable. Very memorable.”

Personal Impact and Personal Branding, are in no small measure about being able to fit your messaging to context and audience

He got some laughs from his audience, but they were strained... This time the story had both PATHOS and LOGOS. There is the emotion of shock in the story, of him being ambushed at seven in the morning, and the message is clearly spelt out, that personal branding is about being distinctive and working hard at it. But all of this good stuff was profoundly undermined by the partner’s loss of credibility - ETHOS. Here was an older man talking to a group of young consultants of mixed gender and telling a story about his – admittedly inadvertent - encounter with a prostitute. A prostitute who was so desperate for money she was on the street at seven in the morning. The fit for the context and the audience is so absolutely wrong that we immediately question his judgement. What’s more, the subject of the day - Personal Impact and Personal Branding, are in no small measure about being able to fit your messaging to context and audience. So he completely blew his credibility as an ‘expert’ sponsor for the day.

My last example - the most recent - effectively uses all three of Aristotle’s musketeers. Interestingly, it was the shortest of the stories. Punchy, powerful, and to the point. The day was an induction for consultants newly promoted into the role. The speaker was asked to talk about a turning point in his career as a consultant. The speaker started with a shock.

“I resigned,” he said. Pause. Laughter. Suspense. “No,” he said, “Seriously. I resigned.” He spoke slowly, deliberately looking around at the audience. “I was at a point where I was really lost at the firm. I didn’t feel I was doing anything useful. So I went to my manager to hand in my resignation. - He asked me to tell him what was going on so I told him everything I was struggling with. He said I needed a change, a break. Why don’t you go and work abroad do something completely different for a year or two and see where that takes you?” Over the next few months my manager helped me find a placement in Hong Kong in a completely different field of consulting, but within the firm. He was right. I needed something different. I loved it in Hong Kong. I found my feet there – and, honestly, I have never looked back.”

Let’s examine why this is such a good use of story to get an idea across. First of all, it works on the level of emotion (PATHOS). We feel his loss and confusion and then his happiness at turning the situation around. Secondly it absolutely works on the level of ETHOS, establishing credibility with his audience. Just like the first story, the speaker was effectively saying I know what it’s like for you, I have been there. Lastly, it works on a level with LOGOS – the message. Not spelt out but clearly implied, there was an important message for this group of consultants at the beginning of a challenging phase in their career with the firm. The underlying message is this – if you get lost, if you are struggling, it’s ok. Come and talk to us and, not only will we listen, but we will help you find a way through. Powerful stuff.

So, don’t forget the Fourth Musketeer, D’Artagnan, the story, the hero of your communication. Used wisely, story can tie all the threads of Pathos, Ethos and Logos together. D’Artagnan the storyteller can unite the talents of the other three Musketeers (the Pathos of Aramis the lover, the Ethos of Porthos the big, strong fighter, and the Logos of Athos the strategist) and by capturing the audience’s imagination you can communicate your message in a truly memorable way. 

Geoff Church