Capturing Hearts and Minds

Voice and Communication Skills Top Tips: Influence

Have you ever wondered what the expression ‘capturing the hearts and minds’ really means? It has been used for years to describe the goal of successfully winning over an audience during a presentation, speech or briefing. 

We have noticed it emerging in other guises too, such as in the concept of ‘employee engagement’, a movement gathering momentum in organisations, the concept (in brief) of having motivated employees who will go that extra mile... Both ideas, it seems, are less about the minds and more about the hearts.

So what does capturing hearts and minds mean and how do you do it? First of all, it’s interesting to note that’s it’s not a new idea. The concept originates in Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric (written some 2500 years ago). He said that in order to to convince an audience to act on or to believe what we are saying, we need to successfully appeal to them in three ways: through pathos, logos, and ethos.

Logos is the easiest for us to achieve as it’s to do with reasoning. In a presentation we state our proposition and back it up with evidence to support it. We present the evidence as facts that cannot be disputed. We are appealing to the logic of our listeners.

Ethos is sometimes confused with ethics, but actually refers to the personal appeal of the presenter to their audience. You need to be credible in order to influence your audience. In sales theory, a similar idea is found in the saying: ‘you have to sell yourself before you sell your product’.

The third area, ‘pathos’, is the most neglected. This is the appeal to your audience on an emotional level - to the heart. Professional Voice recently delivered a program called Mastering your Message to a large number of engineers and economists. The appeal to logos was second nature to them. The idea of an appeal to emotion, however, was more alien to their rational mindsets. Nevertheless, they began to understand that they would never be totally successful as presenters, nor for that matter as managers of people, without success in capturing the hearts of their listeners.

Appealing to pathos is the most neglected area in communication as it’s the hardest to do. It’s about making people really understand, to the point of feeling the same way about a subject as you do. It’s about making them feel good if the subject is positive or making them feel uncomfortable if it’s about a problem that needs to be addressed. And to make your audience understand in this way you need to connect with their imaginations.

Think of any great speech and you will remember one or two things from it -  those are the things which captured the hearts. The connection was through exactly the right choice of metaphor or example to illustrate a point, or even the use of a word or phrase which really meant something to those listening. Interestingly, repeated studies have shown that the moment of decision is often triggered by an emotive word, figure of speech or visual. Worth thinking about when you are preparing a persuasive presentation or sales pitch!

Of course the three appeals, logos, ethos and pathos, are all interlinked. But next time you are constructing a presentation, give a thought to how you are going to capture the hearts of your audience.


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