“The use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.” – Aristotle
The roots of the tradition of public speaking can be traced back to the ancient Greek period when the scholars elaborated and developed novel techniques of public speaking. Public speaking was considered imperative to facilitate political debate and participation in assemblies. They understood the power of words and the impact the powerful words had on the audience. And “rhetoric” became a quintessential tool to make public speaking more effective. Oxford dictionary defines “rhetoric” as “the art of using language so as to persuade or influence others; the body of rules to be observed by a speaker or writer in order that he may express himself with eloquence”.
About 2500 years ago four Ancient Greek scholars developed and mastered the art of rhetoric in public speaking. They are also known as the “fantastic four” – Aspasia, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Aspasia is often regarded as the “mother of rhetoric” and believed to have taught rhetoric to Socrates. Socrates greatly influenced the thought during the Classical Period. The writings of his protégé Plato are the main source of Socrates teachings. Plato wrote about rhetoric in the form of dialogues with Socrates as the main character. In that period the emphasis was on the best ways to write and deliver speeches, with a great deal focus on the importance of truth and ethics in public speaking.
“To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man”
“These are the three things – the volume of sound, modulation of pitch, and rhythm – that a speaker bears in mind.” – Aristotle
The tradition was taken to new heights by Aristotle, Plato’s student and whose contribution to the field of public speaking and rhetoric is unparalleled. Aristotle defined “rhetoric” as “the art of identifying and using the best available means in a given situation to ethically persuade an audience”. Both aspects of the definition are important – the “purpose” of public speaking is to persuade others and the best “means of persuasion”. Aristotle divided the “means of persuasion” into three parts, or three artistic proofs, necessary to persuade others: logical reason (logos), human character (ethos), and emotional appeal (pathos). Logos is the presentation of logical consistency in reasons or arguments that support speaker’s talk. Ethos refers to the speaker’s credibility or trustworthiness. Pathos occurs when a speaker evokes particular emotion in the audience. In the contemporary world, advertisements are often judged as effective based on their use of pathos.
After Greeks, Romans scholars like Cicero and Quintilian made a momentous contribution to the study of rhetoric and oratory. Like Aristotle, Cicero saw the relationship between rhetoric and persuasion and its applicability to the political sphere. Cicero is well known for creating the five canons of rhetoric, a five-step process for developing a persuasive speech that is still used in modern-day public speaking. Cicero, in his treatise, De Inventione elaborated the five canons of rhetoric. Invention (Inventio) is the formulation of arguments based rational appeal or logic. Arrangement (dispositio) – the process of arranging and organizing arguments for maximum impact. Style or Elocution (elocutio) means the process of presenting arguments using figures of speech and other techniques. Memory (memoria) pertains to the process of learning and memorizing speech so that it can be delivered without the use of notes. Delivery (actio) is a process of practicing and delivering the speech using nonverbal communication cues such as eye contact, gestures, and tone of voice. Quintilian shared similar ideas and argued that public speaking was inherently moral activity. He stated that the ideal orator is “a good man speaking well.”
Throughout the history, public speakers and scholars have utilized the classical approach to rhetoric by adapting and applying it to contemporary situations. William Shakespeare and other writers used rhetorical devices to a good effect. Francis Bacon believed that the journey to truth was paramount to the study of public speaking. According to Bacon, reason and morality are essential elements in oration. In the 19th century, a number of notable speakers, politicians, and right activists engaged public speaking to promote their cause. In the last few decades, rhetoric developed as a concentrated field of study and became increasingly conspicuous in election campaigns, advertisements, entertainment industry and digital domain. In the current scenario, the purpose of public speaking has become threefold – to persuade, to inform and to entertain the audience. Now let’s consider some rhetorical devices employed by modern public speakers.
ALLITERATION: involves repetition of the same sound or same letter at the beginning of the words in a sentence.
“Let us go forth to lead the land we love” – J. F. Kennedy
ANALOGY: used to compare unfamiliar object to the familiar object in order highlight the line of thought.
“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” – Albert Camus
ANTITHESIS: this deliberately contrasts two opposing ideas in consecutive phrases or sentences.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
CHIASMUS: a very effective technique where the words in one phrase or clause are reversed in the next.
“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”.
PARALLELISM involves using similar sentence structure and grammatical patterns in a sequence.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn” – Benjamin Franklin
TRICOLON: the use of words, phrases or examples in three parallel successions without interruption.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” – Abraham Lincoln