Nice to see that one of my favorite authorities on public speaking has a new bi-monthly column in the Financial Times.
Sam Leith, the author of the critically acclaimed You Talkin’ to Me? launched his Public Speaking column in today’s FT by discussing the importance establishing the trustworthiness of a presenter. This is known as ‘ethos’.
His comments on the “he said/she said” testimony by the editor of The Guardian (pictured) in front of British MPs last week illustrates how trust and respect is uppermost in an audience’s mind when there is an “absence of a decisive open appeal to the facts”. Since the topic was the leaking of classified information by international fugitive Edward Snowden and the freedom of the press to publish this, it pits the word of editor on one side and that of the spymasters on the other:
The territory under contention is trust: should we trust a respectable newspaper against a rogue security establishment, or a respectable security establishment against a rogue newspaper?
The art of persuasion involves being seen as trustworthy by an audience. Lose that, and they won’t buy a used car, or your argument, from you.
It’s interesting to consider how the concept of trustworthiness functions in different times and places. In the 1960’s young people were encouraged to “never trust anyone over 30”, until they themselves reached that age. The poor and disenfranchised often distrust the words of the rich and powerful. Different races and ethnic groups distrust others. A man’s word is his bond, until it isn’t. Popular figures one year command standing ovations when they speak, only to be scapegoated off the stage and out of sight the next. Modern corporations, and the North Korean political establishment, are petri dishes for this eternal game of hero worship transforming into a blame game.
I’m looking forward to more insight into the nuances of rhetoric from Mr. Leith in future columns.