The Power of Persuasion

Joshua Bell is a world renowned solo violinist, conductor, chamber musician and award winning recording artist who regularly filled out concert halls… who one day decided, as a social experiment to play in a subway.


Asked of his experience, he said “it was strange to be ignored. In a music hall I would be annoyed if someone’s phone went off and yet my expectations were greatly diminished in the subway. I would get excited when someone stopped and listened or gave me a dollar.

So what changed? It was the same music, played on the same violin, by the same great musician.

Why did people pay hundreds of dollars to fill out a concert hall and yet he was almost completely ignored in the subway? The broader question is:

What Does it Take to Persuade People?

To get an answer we have to turn to the great philosopher Aristotle.

2,300 years ago Aristotle wrote one of the most defining pieces on persuasion, Rhetoric – the 3 means of persuasion.

The 3 means of persuasion are:

  1. LOGOS
  2. ETHOS


Logos is the ability to frame your ideas from your audience’s point of view, which is quite often different from the speaker’s point of view. So some work is often needed to make your presentation more audience-centric. You have to present your argument in a way that addresses your audience’s pains and challenges and be more consistent with the world view. A good argument is like a good piece of music; it follows a set of rules and has makes sense, from the audience’s point of view.


Ethos is:

Reputation – what are you known for?

Credibility – Do you look and act in a professional manner?

Trustworthiness – Are your motives clear? Do you show the listener you care as much about them as you do about yourself?

Authority – Do you speak in a confident manner in a clear and concise tone




Pathos is the emotional connection that is made with the audience. Stories are a great way to create an emotional connection. Sometimes, however an audience isn’t ready to make that connection, which is why the speaker needs to create the environment to make that happen.


The Subway Experiment

In the subway experiment Joshua was missing Ethos and Pathos.


The fact that the concert hall hosts Joshua’s music transfers it’s trust. We trust the institution so we trust Joshua. The subway does not have our trust for musical talent. We don’t expect to find great art, great music or great ideas. So it doesn’t confer any trust onto Joshua.


With Pathos, the concert hall is built to create an emotional connection between the artist and the audience. The subway is not. The hussle and bussle and stress of the moving crowd doesn’t create the right environment for creating emotion in a presentation.


What Can We Learn From Aristotle & Joshua?

When presenting in a networking group, as a keynote speaker or even in front of a potential client we should always keep our target audience in mind. Make sure that the ideas that we present are in a language that they understand, address their pains and challenges and makes sense from their perspective rather than ours.

We should always put ourselves in a position that confers trust. By doing so we maximise our ability to attract new partnerships, relationships and clients. Attending a group like BNI CBD Evolve puts us in a room full of our peers where business people expect to hear expertise on show. By referring our BNI colleagues (or being referred ourselves) the trust is transferred and the new relationships are given the best chance possible to succeed. This is why warm referrals are so much more powerful than cold leads.

Finally, using emotion we give ourselves the best chance possible to get our audience on side. Breaking the ice with a joke, telling a funny anecdote or a story of a real life experience that is related to our argument creates a great connection with our audience.

When applied well, Aristotle’s 3 means of persuasion gives us the best chance possible to connect with our audience and influence them to do what we want them to do. Regardless of whether we are a famous musician or an ambitious business person.