Public Speaking Tactics of Successful Politicians

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 ( 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 (

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:


  1. oportosanto says:

    The art of rhetoric means a lot both in campaigns and also during the governments. How many times have we seen recently that a lie told many times becomes the truth? Communication and the media fabricate our reality…

  2. I have also seen an interesting video about how politicians hold their hands during a debate or a speech.

    You first have to form a fist, but then put your thumb outside, otherwise it just looks like an angry gesture, and you can intimidate people. In this case the discussion or the speech can be heated but the gestures remain not scary.

    You can also see this kind of out-fist at Obama, when he speaks.

  3. In order to draw the attention of a crowd you need to know the basics to public speaking. I must say most politicians have mastered this art. So much so that even when they are lying the crowd doesn’t know because they get caught with the way he is talking rather than the words.

  4. This is a great article that covers major components of speech writing, however isn’t half of the issue that the majority of politicians don’t even write their own speeches?

    I have no issue with teleprompter use – I don’t think many people memorize speeches and use even bullet point notes – but it’s not even their own words on the screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if most candidates for the last several decades even know how to write a speech anymore, if they ever did.

    I think the ghost writer game should be called more into question. I’m tired of hearing and knowing that the words coming out of their mouths are mere shadows of what they could or should actually be saying. Kudos to speech writers for being able to do what they do, but it’s too much. I would almost rather see politicians stumble through their words and get from the source than listen to one more speech written by another person.

  5. soonerglg20 says:

    It always amazes me the amount of people who don’t seem to understand that every single politician today uses a teleprompter. The only times that they don’t are when they give stump speeches that they say 30 times a day to every single event they have to go to.

    I think that in part this article fails to attach modern feelings on public speaking tactics of politicians, which in many ways is different than a common mans. The first item I noticed was the article of brevity. The author is right this is important, and mentions a few stock phrases that worked, but they worked because they made a good soundbite.

  6. jamesandrews says:

    It seems that Obama’s secret weapon in his public-speaking arsenal is the humble tele-prompter. Not available to real orators like Lincoln etc, it seems to serve its purpose for the “Senator from Illinois”…..

  7. Diane Lane says:

    Practice and training can help anyone to be a more effective speaker. I disliked public speaking, but at one point, had to give many presentations, and then obtained a position where I was responsible for running small groups. Without training and practice (repetition), there’s no way I could have succeeded. It definitely helps to believe what you’re saying, and feel that you’re making a positive difference, otherwise, people will see through the facade. I think this article is a good starting point for anyone interested in learning how to be an effective speaker, whether involved in politics or not.

  8. 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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