The Lost Art Of Oratory

The BBC’s fascinating 70-min documentary, Yes We Can! The Lost Art of Oratory (first broadcast 05 April 09) provided several tips for those of us required to stand up in front of an audience and inspire them to act. Especially when given that the collective attitude towards you can often be at best ambivalence or indifference, at worst antipathy or hostility.

I got so much out of the film, that I had to watch it again on iPlayer to make sure I wasn’t missing a single trick.  There’s a lot to take in, but even adding just one of these techniques and insights into your public pitching will prove bountiful. As they chronologically appeared, my 18 take-aways are bulleted below:

  1. many try by a speech to give people confidence in them, when you can be more effective making people confident in themselves (eg: ‘Yes We Can’, rather than ‘I Can’)
  2. you’re audience is not there to be talked down to, they are not stupid
  3. lead through eloquence
  4. Anaphora is a good way to go.  It’s where you say the same word or phrase several times throughout your speech, emphasising it by repeating them at the beginning of key phrases (or at the end, like the kind of epiphora of Shakespeare’s “they’re all honourable men” swipe from Marc Antony in Julius Caesar)
  5. try a Tricolon; saying something at the start 3 times that sounds similar, but each iteration is slightly different (eg: ‘they said we’d never A, they said we’d never B, they said we’d never C’)
  6. appeal to the goodwill of your audience through self-conscious humility or undermining yourself (known as captatio benevolentiae)
  7. talk about something by pretending you’re not going to talk about it (eg, ‘we’re not here today to talk about success A, glory B or might C’) (known as praeteritio)
  8. rehearsal and practice are fundamental
  9. it’s all about “delivery, delivery & delivery” (Ancient Greek statesman, Demosthenes)
  10. rhetoric is soggy when people try and avoid saying something, much better to know what you want to stand for, and say it
  11. set up false propositions and, without openly mocking them, knock them down
  12. get a team together that can contribute, and create a ‘character’ for whom you write
  13. average political soundbite length has been savaged; 42secs in 1968, by 1988 it was slashed to just 9.8secs, and in 2008, it was under 5 – consider this brevity
  14. absorb the energy of an audience, but maintain discipline – stay a dignified step ahead of them
  15. a perceived lack of inhibition can confirm sincerity
  16. people won’t even remember 10% of what you say, it’s a miracle if they remember 4 or 5 points, so look like you mean it
  17. “A lot of communication has nothing to do with the words, a lot of it is just your body language, or your tone of voice, or the way you look in your eyes.”
  18. “You measure the impact of your words, not on the beauty or the emotion of the moment but on whether you change the way people not only think, but the way they feel.”

More ideas can be triggered from flicking through Wikipedia’s rhetoric glossary.

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