Reason #4: Public Speaking As Self-Help
Pause for a moment and think of an important leader or mentor in your life. Wasn’t that individual you conjured in your mind an excellent public speaker? Someone who grabbed your attention? Someone who made logical arguments? Someone who used persuasion, emotion and compelling evidence? Someone whose delivery matched the intensity and passion of their topic or subject matter?
Throughout Western history, leaders and leadership can’t be separated from public speaking. A famous Greek professor named Isocrates believed that the skills involved in public speaking, argument making, reasoning, and eloquence, actually fostered morality as speakers would be more committed to adhering to the very principles and ideas they advocated as speakers speaking to a community. He even went as far as to teach students to memorize and practice well known speeches so they could meet the challenges of a new occasion and draw from the past – a kind of ancient “best of speeches” series – and craft new, aesthetically pleasing and politically appropriate oratory.
From Plato, the famous Greek philosopher, we learn the lessons of his master, Socrates, regarding the use what was called dialectics, a spoken form of reasoning employing questions and answers in the search for truth. Maybe some of your professors today still use the question and answer technique oftentimes referred to as the Socratic Method. In the Socratic Method, a professor asks you a question about a subject of importance of which he/she expects you to know the answer. Then the professor takes your answer and asks you another question. Again and again this process of questions and answers continues until a mutual understanding of the topic at hand is fully exhausted. While this may not sound like the traditional public speech format you are accustomed to, the use of public reasoning and examples served as an early model in the development of public communication.
Later, Cicero, the famed Roman teacher of all things public and political, was quick to point out to students of politics and law that they needed speech training. He explained that Aristotle, the famed Greek philosopher and great teacher of public speaking, relied on speech “tools” to help his students prepare for public deliberation and oration (Crowlee and Hawhee, 1999). As it turns out, Greek teachers included the study of public speaking along with language and reasoning to help round out a complete education. The public communication tools included skills such as how to generate a thesis, or main idea, how to provide helpful examples to support your points, and how to persuade audiences using comparison and contrast.
While Roman teachers borrowed heavily from the Greeks’ speech training manuals, they also condensed these writings into “how to” manuals for later students. In addition, the Romans studied the Greek teachers’ use of arrangement (how to organize your thoughts), style (how your words should sound), reasoning (how logically you connect evidence to claims), delivery (how well you present your speech to an audience) and memory (we don’t use this one much anymore but the Greeks and Romans developed techniques for memorizing long and complicated speeches – imagine trying to memorize an hour-long speech without the help of any notes!), and codified these principles into a kind of training manual for students and statesmen of their new empires (Bizzell and Herzberg, 2000).
These ‘pragmatic’ tools, meaning to deal with things in a rational and sensible manner, for the public speaker meant that students did not have to rely solely on being born with a gifted tongue, perfect memory, or strong voice to participate. Rather, the emphasis on the teaching of public speaking made it possible for students (granted, these were privileged children of wealthy families) to learn, practice, and attempt to advance their ideas, arguments, careers, wealth, and reputations in public settings. In other words, for you this means that one doesn’t need to be naturally gifted in the art of the tongue. Rather, it can be and is a skill one can learn and improve when they assert their effort in public speaking.
Later during the Medieval Period (490s-1700), teachers would congregate in cities and spiritual centers often with other teachers. These earliest universities were little more than students coming together – referred to as stadiums – and they almost always revolved around collectives of well-acknowledged teachers (Bizzell and Herzberg). The arrival of these academic groups helped inspire the Renaissance where the teaching of speaking found its way into early university, covering topics of grammar, logic and public speaking for persuasive means.
The teaching of public speaking has a long history in the development of citizenry and the self-development of public leaders. In other words, while the techniques of public speaking may have evolved over the years, one thing remains certain: oral communication practice is necessary if we are to advance as public persons (Morgan, 2003). If public speaking was deemed necessary to the educational and moral development of both teachers and leaders of the western world for the previous two thousand years, we believe you can gain something from the art of public speaking as well.
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