(Welcome to Part II of the Thinking Differently series, a collection of real-world experiences that illustrate Albert Einstein’s belief that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Find Part I on CAN-ICE and Lean Canvas here.)
“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”
Who doesn’t recognize that famous mantra of Steve Jobs? But why are his words so powerful? Why does his message make so much sense? And why does it continue to inspire us, years after he spoke them?
It’s not just his genius. It’s the way he was able to communicate. Steve Jobs, more than anyone else, knew that it’s not enough to have a good idea. You also have to know how to convey it.
Fortunately, there’s a formula, discovered by Aristotle and still relevant today, that makes an audience eager to listen and more likely to agree—regardless of your level of language mastery. Buried in this formula is the secret to unleashing great communication.
So what is the method? According to my sister Dr. Alyssa O’Brien, an expert in language and rhetoric who taught at Stanford University for 15 years before assuming her current post at the University of Sydney, Aristotle’s formula has three steps: first, build ethos; then, persuade through logos; and finally, win over your audience with pathos.
For simplicity’s sake, I’m calling this method The Three P’s: Power, Proof, and Passion.
Power comes in three forms:
Earned credibility – authority stems from accomplishment or experience (think about Warren Buffett’s wealth or Serena Williams’ years on the court)
Shared values – the speaker seems relatable or builds a bridge with the audience through common ground
Goodwill – you can tell the speaker is interested in you, such as when an effective elevator pitch addresses your needs
Proof to support an idea or position:
A logical argument, using evidence, “proof of concept,” data, or numbers
This is where you can give the technical details or cost-benefit specifics
This step must follow Power, or else your logic will be rejected; only after establishing credibility can you offer compelling proof. (Many STEM-oriented individuals often get this backward, only to become frustrated when their perfectly logical argument is rejected outright, with no apparent reason.)
Passion, or the ability to move your audience through emotion:
Inspiring or positive emotions – when you appeal to shared values or goals, you tap into people’s passions for achievement, purpose, or meaning in life
Action-oriented emotions – exciting people through hope, ambition, nationalism, or the potential to make a difference. Think about how Steve Jobs lit a fire under his audience with his words: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
Passion comes last, usually in shorter, energizing sentences. Make your closing words memorable! (Martin Luther King, Jr. nailed this step with his closing, “Let Freedom Ring!”)
What Braveheart and Steve Jobs Have in Common, and How They Fit in Here
In the links below, see how two famous leaders execute Power, Proof, and Passion to push their messages forward. Wildly different circumstances, similar communication techniques.
Example #1: William Wallace and Braveheart
Message: Fight for Freedom
Power – sharing values and building authority: "I give homage to Scotland", "Sons of Scotland", "I am William Wallace"
Proof – using logical arguments: "I see a whole army of countrymen here in defiance of tyranny", "You have come to fight as free men, and free men you are"
Passion – inspiring the troops with ideas of fame, immortality, and freedom: "And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to take one chance... just one chance... to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom?"
Example #2: Steve Jobs
Message: Pursue your dreams and identify the opportunities in life's setbacks, even death itself
Power – connecting to the audience, being vulnerable and approachable: "I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world", "Truth be told, I never graduated from college"
Proof – showing the logic of life events: “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
Passion – inspiring by tapping into common emotions: "Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. … Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
When you have an idea that you care deeply about, one that holds the potential for great outcomes, remember that your communication hinges on Aristotle’s time-tested formula. Use The Three P's (Power, Proof, and Passion) to effectively connect, convey, and clinch your message.
By doing so, you will be sharing a skill with many great leaders, whether entrepreneurs, coaches, politicians, or team captains: the ability to reach listeners and communicate an idea, and thus the ability to unleash great communication.