President Lincoln Giving Gettysburg Address

Public speaking is an artform, however, there are certain well-documented oration methodologies that have defined what works and what fails. Just as an artist perfects and refines their skills by practice and production, a successful public speaker must speak with conviction and certain knowledge.

Politicians convey confidence and assert their message by using devices intended to engage their audience. These include:
• Rhetoric
• Repetition
• Brevity
• Belief
• Authority

Rhetoric as defined and exposited by Plato, Aristotle and Cicero in their works about oratory, is the art of persuasion. Plato stressed structure and order, Aristotle focused on logic and proof, and Cicero refined oratory. Politicians must constantly seek to sway public opinion to favor their cause or implement their programs. Understanding the fundamentals of rhetoric is essential to create a positive reaction to any speech.

Politicians also use repetition to drive home the points that further their agenda. The “Yes, we can!” phrase was constantly repeated during the 2008 presidential campaign to great effect. The target audience was empowered by positive affirmation and optimism contained in three small words. Engaging the audience is essential to acceptance.Catchphrases and slogans are devices politicians have used since antiquity. Shakespeare documented – albeit in dramatic fashion – catchphrases still in use today. The eulogy delivered by Mark Anthony at Ceasar’s funeral. “Friends, Romans and Countrymen,” is analogous to the phrase, “My fellow Americans,” as used by many presidents in their speeches. The theme of “hope and change,” used by President Obama during the2008 campaign was a slogan that propelled him into office. In 2012, that theme will be changed, as it has turned out to be less than compelling. A recent article in Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/18/usa-campaign-obama-slogan-idUSL2E8DEDRP20120218) indicates how important slogans and catchphrases can be, and why they are effective.

Brevity is essential for a quality speech. Prime examples from history include Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s address to Congress announcing the invasion of Pearl Harbor, and Churchill’s classic perorations in the “This was their finest hour,” and “We shall fight on the beaches” speeches of early World War II. The latter speech also uses repetition to great effect with the “We shall…,” rhetorical theme (http://www.winstonchurchill.org/learn/speeches/speeches-of-winston-churchill/1940-finest-hour/128-we-shall-fight-on-the-beaches)

Belief: Convincing an audience is the art of salesmanship. A politician believes what they are saying, regardless of veracity. Inspiring others to believe hinges on the ability of the speaker to make their case in a believable manner. Presentation and perception are the tools of the trade in politics. A politician wearing a fine well-tailored suit is more likely to be believed than if they are in casual attire. Engaging the audience with good eye contact is much more effective than the “watching a tennis match” effect created by reliance on teleprompters. It is essential to focus on the audience and not the content of the speech.

Authority is used by politicians to convince their audience they can succeed. Politicians command authority by exercising their responsibility to prudently allocate and appropriate money. Their authority is based on the knowledge and experience of their staff and advisors. This lends credence to the politician’s rhetoric and all that remains is to convince their audience they have chosen wisely.

To be a successful speaker, you must acquire the skills and confidence to persuade your audience of the content of your message. Training is critical, regardless of natural ability or personal charisma. Knowing the mechanics of speech structure, the art of delivery, the ability to convey concepts in a convincing manner and having knowledge and expertise in your subject manner is what will sell the content. Politicians know this, you must learn it. Learning starts with training, as found here: http://www.exec-comm.com/

1 Comment

  1. Caroline Nderitu-Benjamin October 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm - 

    Thanks for sharing some of the tricks to trade. Indeed, to be a successful speaker one must acquire the skill. “Public talking” is a far cry from public speaking, public communication!

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