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Ancient Greek Rhetoric Traditions Can Work For Small Business Communicators

Learning from the Greeks can help a small-business leader be a more effective communicator.

According to Dr. Joseph Valenzano, some principles of communication are as pertinent today as they were to the ancient Greeks.

 “It’s all Greek to me,” says Dr. Valenzano.  “The principles of effective public presentation have not changed in thousands of years.  The Greeks set the gold standard for communications. And they are valid today.”

Here is Dr. Valenzaon’s take on the four key Greek concepts that he says inform strong public presentations, even today:

Ethos:  This is credibility.  You enter a presentation with some credibility, and through your speech you should enhance it. Audience perceptions of your credibility can be influenced one way or the other by your ability to speak knowledgeably, dress professionally and connect with your audience.

Pathos:  This is the emotional dimensions of your appeal.  You need to make people feel connected to you and your topic.  Speak as if you know and share their concerns and be passionate about your topic.  When you are passionate, your audience will see it.

Logos:  This represents the logical dimensions of an appeal.  People today are very easily influenced by simple problem-solution reasoning.  Explain the problem and then show them why your solution is best.  Doing so appropriately means avoiding logical pitfalls, like attacking the opposition or appealing solely on authority.  If you can present a reasoned argument passionately, your audience will follow you.

Kairos:  Aristotle once said “Kairos is all,” and he was right.  The Greek word kairos refers to timing.  Time your message correctly in terms of when you deliver it and at what point you provide certain details.  Proper timing can seize the moment for you and effectively persuade your audience.

Dr. Valenzaon  also offers these principles that small-business leaders should keep in mind when preparing presentations or in situations where communications are critical:

Substance over style actually can work:  There is a reason people often deride used-car salesmen—they try to be snazzy and stylish, but often cannot provide any substance behind their claims.  People actually can think critically, and when you treat them respectfully by giving them data and evidence that supports your argument, they will respect you and your appeal.  Provide some steak with your sizzle, some meat with your potatoes, some evidence with your claims.

They are called “visual aids” for a reason: Many people make the mistake of using technology simply because it’s available, but technology should not drive your presentation; the needs of your presentation should drive your choices in what technology to use.  PowerPoints should uncomplicate complicated data for your audience, but not take the attention off you and your argument.  More tips:  Don’t talk to your visual aid; it’s not buying anything.  And don’t pass out materials to the audience until after the presentation, and you are ready to leave; otherwise people will just read what you handed them and ignore your presentation.

Know thy audience:  Whenever possible, get as much information on your audience as you can.  This includes demographic data, but also information on their interests and goals.  What do they sell?  To whom?  What is their company mission/vision statement?  Do the advance research on them so you can tailor your presentation to them.  Each sales presentation should be different, because the audience is different.  People can tell when you use the same presentation all the time.  This doesn’t mean there won’t be common elements, but some audience-specific information should inform your speech.

Practice does not make perfect, but it sure helps a lot:  Many people freeze up or get nervous before presentations because they did not practice as much as they should have.  Practice will not ensure a perfect presentation but it will go a long way toward reducing anxiety and allowing you to connect with your audience.  Prepare your presentation as far enough in advance as possible, and then practice it over and over in front of an audience—even a small one.  The mirror can help, but it’s not the same as having real people in front of you.  Start by outlining and then as you get more comfortable with the flow and content of your speech, make the outline shorter.  Then, ultimately, speak off that shortened outline.  It will let you appear more confident, natural and knowledgeable about your material.

Valenzano’s new book, with co-author Dr. Steven Braden, is The Speaker: The Tradition and Practice of Public Speaking, from Fountainhead Press.

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