How Aristotle’s Advice on Speaking Saved This Woman’s Career, and How It Can Save Yours

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Like so many of us, Maria had a lifelong fear of speaking in public.

She worked for a health insurance company that was aggressively seeking new members.

Recently she got a promotion that required her to speak to groups of potential members in locations around the state.

She was so nervous about her new position that she considered quitting.

A friend told her about a public speaking class at a local community college that was to begin on the following Saturday.

Even this scared her. But, Maria showed up on Saturday morning, along with about twelve other people.

Before the class began she realized from talking with some of her classmates that she wasn’t alone in her fear of public speaking.

The teacher began by having each person introduce themselves and give their reasons for attending the class.

Maria even dreaded having to do this.

When her turn came she nervously explained about her new job responsibilities.

Surprisingly, many of her classmates were there for similar reasons.

After giving a short introduction to the basics of public speaking, their teacher assigned a five-minute talk on a subject of their own choosing for the next class on Tuesday evening.

Maria decided to prepare a talk that she might give to potential members of her health insurance company.

When the time for her talk arrived, Maria nervously explained the features of the health insurance plans that her company offered.

Her classmates seemed bored.

One person was falling asleep.

Polite applause came as she finished and sat down.

Maria was perplexed as to why her well-prepared talk seemed to be a dud.

Her teacher invited the class to give Maria feedback and constructive criticism.

People told her what they liked and didn’t like.

The most helpful comments came from a man in the front row.

“You never told us what was in it for us,” he said. “You gave us all the features of your health plan, but never translated them into potential benefits.”

Then the teacher told the class about Aristotle’s three requirements for effective persuasion.

First came the personal character of the speaker (ethos).

Next came logical arguments (logos).

But, without the third requirement, few would be moved to take action.

This was the emotional appeal of the argument (pathos).

An audience has to know and feel what was in it for them.

Maria and other speakers were asked to redo their talk for the next class on Thursday night based on the constructive feedback they received.

This time Maria focused on how her company’s health plan could benefit the individual members of her audience.

Nerves were still a problem, but focusing outward on the audience helped.

She took the teacher’s advice and practiced her talk (without memorizing it word for word) enough so that it seemed to flow more easily.

Her second speech went much better.

Audience members seemed to be interested in what she was telling them.

She felt more at ease as she realized they really wanted to hear what she was saying.

She got strong applause when she had finished.

People had questions about the health plan.

Not surprisingly some classmates came up to her at the end of the class to find out how they could sign up for the health plan.

Maria was on her way to becoming a proficient speaker.

She still had nervousness, but had learned in the class that nervousness before a speech is normal.

This was why constant practice was so important — it helped the “butterflies in her stomach fly in formation.”

She went on to have a successful career in her company.

If you have a fear of public speaking, consider Maria’s example, the advice she got from her classmates, her professor, and Aristotle.

How can you accelerate your passion, purpose, and talents?

That’s our focus.

Ken West is the author of the goal achievement and decision-making workbook, Achieve Your Purpose, formerly titled, Get What You Want.

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