To put it simply, ethos is your image and credibility in the eyes of your audience. If Arnold Schwarzenegger is to make a speech on a bodybuilding festival, the audience is most likely going to be impressed before he even opens his mouth. Everyone there will be thrilled to hear him speak and his words will be taken as pure gold. This is because he has a gigantic ethos in this community. He is considered an expert on the topic and has unparalleled results in the field.
However, if Arnold was to make a scientific presentation at a conference on aerospace engineering, you can imagine the audience wouldn’t be that easily impressed. The question in everybody’s mind would be “what is he doing here?” and “what does he have to do with us?”. Not only does Arnie not have an ethos of credibility in this circle, but he might even be in the disfavour with the audience as he is usually associated with a world far different from their own and thus his task to convince the audience would be much more difficult.
What is your ethos: Who are you and what do you do? What experience do you have in the field? Who is the audience and what do they know about you – what is your image in this community? Does the audience like you? This constitutes your ethos. Based on this, the audience is going to form their impressions and expectations of your speech. However, having an ethos does not only relate to businessmen, scientists or athletes. You also have a certain reputation at your workplace, your university, in your circle of friends or your family. Are you a funny person? Are you reliable? Are you someone people around you look up to? All of this influences how convincing you can be in those environments.
Using your ethos: There is nothing more convincing then a person speaking from their own experience. Make sure you don’t boast, but make it clear that you know what you are talking about. To do this, do not just mention your experiences, but talk about them through examples or little stories. For instance, if you are a student giving a presentation on a renowned author, you are going to sound more credible if you read more works by the author and can tell about them, draw parallels between them and maybe even compare them to some other author’s works then by just telling what you read in the textbook. This way you are also building your ethos.
Building your ethos: As opposed to pathos and logos, to a great part, ethos is not built during the speech. Ethos is gained by collecting experiences and results. Depending on whether your field is entrepreneurship, science or art, with every profitable business, published paper or successful art project, you are gradually gaining expertise. However, it is also important that the members of your community, i.e. your future audience know about you and your work. In most cases this relates to having an own website or a profile on social media where you can make yourself visible, but it also goes for your everyday life – make friends and connections at your university or workplace, show them that how great you are and don’t be shy to tell them about your interests and hobbies.
If you are for example interested in languages, every once in a while share with your colleagues something interested you had read or teach them a word in a foreign language. With time, you will become the reference person for languages in that circle of people and when it comes to speaking on this topic, in your colleagues’ eyes there will be no person more appropriate to give that speech than you.