Persuasion Skills: How to Use the Power of Emotion to Influence Your Audience

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Emotion is a Key Persuasion Skill

Centuries ago, Aristotle wrote the book on rhetoric, titled simply, Rhetoric.

He outlined three key persuasion strategies: ethos, logos and pathos.

Ethos is the Greek for “character.” It refers to the credibility and authority of the presenter. If you are trying to persuade someone, it’s important they see you as someone worthy of listening to.

Logos is the Greek for “logic.” This technique uses data, evidence, analysis, facts, and deduction to persuade. This is what most presenters rely on almost entirely when they are trying to persuade an audience (especially in a professional setting).

Pathos is the Greek for “suffering” or “experience.” In the world of persuasion, it refers to the use of emotion to persuade an audience.

The words sympathy, empathy, and pathology are all derived from the root “pathos.”

persuasion skills public speaking

How to Use Emotion to Persuade

Emotion is one of those critical persuasion skills that few people leverage. Yet it’s an extremely powerful tool of persuasion when used well.

Here are some ways to use this persuasion skill:


The human brain responds powerfully to stories.

A great story is not just a sequence of events.

It also incorporates emotions: successes, failures, revelations and new discoveries, curious developments and exciting opportunities.

Simon Sinek is one of the most effective practitioners of storytelling in the business world today.

In the following video, starting at 4:49, he tells a brief story about his experience as a customer while staying at the Four Seasons in Las Vegas, and what it means for leadership.

Most Leaders Don't Even Know the Game They're In | Simon Sinek


A metaphor is a rhetorical device that compares one thing to another:

  • “The eyes are the windows to the soul”
  • “Our people are our greatest asset”
  • “We are facing an ocean of uncertainty in the next fiscal year”

Metaphors can be great ways to incorporate emotion into your presentation.

They create an “idea shortcut” that enables the audience to quickly internalize a concept, even if that concept is complex.

Personal Experiences and Vulnerability

Never discount the power of your own personal experiences. Getting vulnerable in front of an audience creates a sense of closeness.

If you can reach a point where you are comfortable getting vulnerable during presentations, you will have a very important persuasion skill.

In the business world, Bozoma Saint John, who has run marketing/ branding at Uber and Netflix, is a master of vulnerability in public speaking.

She consistently creates an engaging and impactful experience for her audiences.

How Technology Connects With Emotion | Bozoma Saint John

Passionate or Emotional Delivery

Speakers who are uninspired, boring or rambling usually engage in too much informational communication (too much “logos”).

By channeling the right emotion into your delivery, you become more persuasive.

Leverage your facial expressions, body language, vocal tonality and movement to convey different emotions.

The right emotion could be enthusiasm, sadness, pride, outrage, hope, or many others. It all depends on your content and message.

Michelle Meyer, who is Head of US Economics at Bank of America, is a great example of this.

She speaks about substantive, analytical information with enthusiasm and energy.

Her energy is not over-the-top. It’s completely professional. But it makes the audience genuinely interested in her point of view.

Starting to See Financial Impact of Reopening, Says BofA's Meyer

The Persuasion Skill that Will Transform Your Communication

The lack of emotional content or emotional presence is one of the most common mistakes that speakers make.

Presenters fail to persuade or inspire others because they don’t speak to their feelings, hopes, dreams and fears.

Information, facts, figures, and data (logos) are essential.

But the emotional side is also essential.

With all the facts and evidence, often it is emotion that will push people to that last step and move them to action.

For someone like me, very analytical, technical and detail-oriented by nature, this was a hard thing to realize.

But once I understood the power of the “softer” stuff, it totally transformed my conversations and my impact on audiences.

Justin Aquino