Sophists were ancient Greek teachers who taught the art of persuading people. This could be for personal use, such as convincing someone to help you with something, or to influence a large group of people, such as in politics. The art of finding the best way to persuade someone is known as rhetoric.
It is interesting to see that the art of persuasion has always been an important skill for human beings since ancient times. We are social creatures with psychological biases, so knowing how to influence other people to help push your agenda forward can be critical in putting yourself one step ahead.
The famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote a clear, defining treatise of rhetoric in his book, simply titled Rhetoric, or Ars Rhetorica in Latin. In this book, he summarised the core of rhetoric as three principles: logos, pathos and ethos. Any good orator should be able to rely on all three of these to persuade their audience.
Logos is the appeal to logical reasoning. It is the rational, factual facet of your argument.
Pathos is the appeal to your audience’s emotion. It is the passionate, heartfelt way you present your argument.
Ethos is the appeal to your character. It is an establishment of why people should believe what you have to say, based on your moral character and history.
Out of all of these, which is most important? Some say logos is most important, because cold, hard facts should be used to determine the resolution of a debate. Some feel pathos is most important, because people are more likely to be swayed by emotion and passion as we have a tendency to be influenced too much by our monkey brain.
However, Aristotle claimed that the most important principle is ethos. You can make up facts and you can put on a performance to abuse the power of emotions. But ethos is hard to obtain: you have to live life nobly and honourably, guided by a moral compass. People have a tendency to trust the words of a virtuous person much more than someone who has a history of lying, cheating and in general, morally bankrupt.
Simply put, the secret to being persuasive is not the words you speak or the impassioned way that you deliver them, but your credibility.