There’s an expression which seems to be passed down from generation to generation which says that you know you’re getting older when police officers are looking younger.  This reminds us of our own mortality and is no real reflection on the heavily armed twenty something protecting us from known or unknown peril, however, there is an unconscious (and sometimes conscious) incongruence with the image in that we do not always associate the fresh face in front of us with credibility.  Why so? The answer has much to do with the principle of ethos, one of the three rhetorical pillars (alongside logos and pathos) first established over 2,000 years ago.

It was the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who identified these pillars of persuasion and – despite everything the smartphone era throws our way – they remain as rock solid as ever in how we attempt to persuade our audiences.

The principle of ethos can be seen as one of the arts of influence and persuasion through the use of one’s authority and credibility to promote trust.

This is why young police officers often fail to make the right impression. You would think their youth communicates just the sort of determination, energy and vigour demanded for running down crooks, and yet all the crime victim appears to see is a lack of experience and therefore authority.

If there is one advantage which comes with wrinkle lines and whitening hair then it is ethos! Whether in business, lawmaking or politics, that visible cue of life experience will often suggest you’re a safe pair of hands or wearing a metaphorical hi viz jacket. For ethos, read credibility.

Skilful orators will complement the visual cue with reference to their experience. Ethos laden phrases will refer to signposts and achievements from early in a career to indicate how long the speaker has been engaging in their profession.

You will notice that experienced politicians are fond of using the phrase “As my record shows….” or listing policies and actions which made a difference. For all the shininess and novelty of a young pretender, most voters will default to an older politician with a sense of the ‘tried and tested’, or sometimes less flatteringly referred to as ‘better the devil you know’!

Aged 73, Ronald Reagan famously scored huge popularity points in a debate with his Democratic opponent, the 56-year-old Walter Mondale. He quipped the immortal line “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

In speeches and presentations, business people will often refer to big deals they have closed, struggles which defined them as entrepreneurs or executives and experiences from the frontline of business and often just an honesty about what it takes to be successful. When Alan Sugar says, “The boring side of business is what makes it work,” you can hear a lifetime’s experience in those 10 words.

In the courts, a barrister who addresses the jury with the assuredness of someone who has a thorough understanding of the law and radiates experience comes with the weight of ethos.

So what if you are lacking in terms of year advancement? Projecting ethos isn’t just limited to how log you’ve been doing the job. Take politicians as an example. Many voters are dismayed by the lack of life experience outside politics of some politicians.

Drawing on relevant experience, regardless of whether it’s relevant to the current job, will always bring ethos. In my experience, those who do it best know how to show, without going over the top in the process of telling.

There are huge ethos questions around this year’s Presidential election which sees a battle for America’s hearts and minds waged between Joe Biden (81) and Donald Trump (77). If Joe Biden wins he will beat his own record as the oldest person to serve as president.

But on this occasion it’s all relative when it comes to age. “Trump just comes off as a much younger person,” a voter recently told NBC News. “Just the way he speaks, the way he walks. Just everything he does.” And on that point… next month I’ll be looking at pathos.