In my previous blog I had outlined the strength of both Churchill and Lincoln’s speeches. They did not depend on ‘overblown rhetoric’ were my actual words, and I have been severely taken to task for them too!
I have been accused of being ignorant of the basics of the theory of rhetoric – and severely chastised for my words in respect of ‘two of the greatest rhetoricians of the twentieth century’
I shall not give in to the temptation to point out that Lincoln was not of the ‘twentieth century’, deeming that a mere sophist’s deflection from the point to hand – which is that I am supposedly ignorant of the wealth of information pertaining to the origins of discussion on the art of communication
I am outraged – Me! who has bored half the population of the Brisbane dinner party set with my passionate defence of the Aristotelian pragmatic position as opposed to Plato’s vehement rejection of the sophists!!
See what I mean? – I bet you are already politely yawning over your morning coffee – or worse: –
Well, I will try not to bore you, but I must address this issue, (I can hear Trish all the way from Los Angeles sighing “Now we’re in for it)” – and you can blame this on ‘Anonymous’ from Wisconsin!
The question “What makes a speech effective” is one that has troubled speakers from ancient Greece onwards – both Plato and Aristotle discussed the nature of man’s speaking, and came to different conclusions. The Romans also took up the challenge and we are very familiar with the words of Quintilian – in fact Dr Ralph Smedley himself, the founder of Toastmasters International was fond of quoting Quintilian.
Even the early Christian fathers addressed the issue of the quality of public speeches designed to alter men’s thinking, and both St Augustine (early) and Bacon (later) have written many words on what makes a speech effective. And if you really want to know some books to read I have listed some that I own below. (They can be very good for insomnia.)
Even today, the purveyors of communication training have dissected the subject, and modern books written about this eternal question fill libraries, never mind bookshelves. In fact, we have written a couple ourselves.
But if we rid the basics of the many theories, the variety of ideas, the additions, the multiplications of interpretations which all set out to explain but often only confuse, we are left with five simple challenges that every speaker who rises to their feet will face.
Invention – discovering what it is we are to speak about and the arguments we will use.
Disposition – as the Greeks would term it, but we would recognise that today as our basic structure – how we are going to organise our material.
Style – finding the right language, the form of our speech
Delivery – just how we are personally going to present this material, and
Memoria – often misinterpreted as our memory, but in reality it is how we conduct the whole speech so as to make a mark on the memory of our audience.
These five challenges have been debated over centuries, but reading them through today, we can see how remarkably relevant they still are. These are issues that crop up at every workshop we run – they may be couched in different terms, but the intent is still the same
We still are faced with the challenge of what to say, how to say it and how to make it relevant to our audience. So let’s take the first of the five challenges of rhetorical speaking today – the Invention, and look at the three issues that face all of us, when someone asks ‘can you give a ten minute presentation of the art of public speaking?’ or something like that.
The 3 main principles contained in the concept of Invention are Logos; Pathos and Ethos. And despite the ancient terms they are still modern problems.
Logos – the word Logos covers what we know as the ‘content’ – but of course it is very much more than that. It is the arguments we will depend on to prove our case; it is the logic we use and the reasoned assumptions we make.
And it is the way we address our material to make it relevant to the people we are speaking to. How they (the audience) are likely to receive our message is still of concern to us today. Proponents of the Carbon Tax here in Australia are facing an increasingly sceptical public; so to convince this wider audience these speakers will have to devise arguments which are far different from the ones they would use when speaking to listeners sympathetic to their cause.
Pathos is the Emotional Factor. The ancient Greeks were well aware that emotional speaking creates power. Homer and Thucydides recognised that Pericles’s control of Athens came from his ability to create within his listeners an emotional response which led onto action.
In fact so obvious to them was this emotional connection with changing the listener’s attitude, opinions and actions, that the old republican Plato decided in his ideal state only the philosopher-kings should hold power, and only they would be entitled to influence ‘the masses’ or decide who else could wield that power. Censorship is a very old problem.
And Finally – Ethos – the foundation of our word ‘Ethical’, which puts it into modern terms. Ethos means our credibility as a source; how believable are we as a trusted purveyor of information. Without creating that bond of trust, no matter how carefully prepared are our arguments, no matter how delicately directed to our audience’s needs – we will not create the outcome we want.
And the ancients were well aware that it is not only in the accuracy of your statements or the logic of your arguments, but how you are perceived by your audience that also matters. In fact it was Cicero who said of orators that ethos concerned “What a speaker ought to be as well as what he seemed to be.”
So with Logos, Pathos and Ethos – we have the foundation for any public speaker who stands up to convince their audience to their way of thinking, to change opinions and to create actions.
Not much has changed then in the past few thousand years.
And just for Anonymous of Wisconsin – here’s a quote you might like to think on:
“’Rhetoric’ is not mere ornament or manipulation or trickery. It is rhetoric in the ancient sense of persuasive discourse.” J.S. Nelson, A. Megill, D.N. McCloskey in ‘Rhetoric of Inquiry’ and who are also of Wisconsin…
… and I point out to you, that while it is not merely ‘ornament or manipulation or trickery’ those are part of the dictionary definition of the word. And it was this meaning I used in reference to both Churchill and Lincoln’s ability to move their audience.
So that is dinner over; now, will someone pass the port please!
Michele @ Trischel
The innovative communication training company who knows a thing or two about rhetoric!
And here are some books by authors who also knew a thing or two about rhetoric, sitting on my bookshelves, and which read in bed with a cup of hot cocoa, are a fabulous way to beat insomnia:
Aristotle, The Rhetoric of Aristotle, translated and edited by Lane Cooper, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1960
Plato, Gorgias, translated by W. R. Lamb, Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1925
Cicero, De Orator, (2 vols), translated by W. Rhys Roberts, London, Oxford University Press, 1953
Quintilian, The Institutio Oratoria of Quintilian – a rather old and disreputable book, with some pages missing which I think is publish by J. Dent around 1913
St Augustine, On Christian Doctrine – which is on the top shelf and I can’t be bothered to get it down;
Bacon Francis, Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral, London, Collins 1954
Richards, I.A., The Philosophy of Rhetoric, New York, Oxford University Press, 1965
And that’s enough of that!!
And any more of it, Anonymous from Wisconsin, and I shall start on the other four challenges; and that means we’ll be here to breakfast time. So pass the port and pipe down!!