Treading in Greek footsteps

The art of public speaking was developed by the Ancient Greeks. Speeches were not approached casually but carefully crafted paying strict attention to the rules of rhetoric. Aristotle dedicated an entire book to the topic, imaginatively entitled "Rhetoric."

We are so lazy these days that the thought of trawling through classical literature to find inspiration fills most of us with dread. So much easier to buy one of those fabulous airport books with catchy titles promising instant public speaking skills in ten easy lessons, right? Wrong. Why waste your time on pale imitations when you can go direct to the source? I taught presentation skills to a class of fifteen year olds who not only grasped Aristotle's concepts immediately but also identified examples they had encountered. Bear in mind that this was a class of Cantonese speakers who were operating in English. Impressive.

Aristotle on credibility: "Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible." (Book one chapter 2) How do we inform the audience that we are credible?

1: Speak confidently, use eye contact and pauses. A hurried speaker is one who conveys an impression of lack of self belief.

2: Use references - mention past experiences, research and anecdotes.

3: Use transferred credibility. Weave quotations, research carried out by respected 3experts and statistics into your speech. You may not be the expert but you can link yourself to people who are.

Our history informs our present. When it comes to public speaking, we should embrace not beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

Artistotle's Rhetoric with commentary


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