Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 4, 2011 · 17 comments

in Blog

Demosthenes practicing his delivery by the ocean.

Welcome back to our series on Classical Rhetoric. Today we’re continuing our five-part segment on the Five Canons of Rhetoric. So far we’ve covered the canons of inventionarrangementstyle, and memory. Today we’ll be covering the last canon: delivery.

What Is Delivery?

Like the canon of style, the canon of delivery is concerned with how something is said.

While the canon of style focuses primarily on what sort of language you use, delivery focuses on the mechanics of how you impart your message. For ancient orators, delivery meant how a speaker used his body language and hand gestures and how he changed his tone of voice during his oration.

Mastering the canon of delivery can help a speaker establish ethos with his audience. Admit it. You’ve probably written off plenty of speakers when you saw that they mumbled through their speech and gestured like the robot on Lost in Space. I know I have. The speaker could have been making valid and groundbreaking points, but the message got lost in the delivery. Delivery can also help an orator use pathos, or emotion, to persuade. A well placed pause or a slammed fist can elicit a desired emotion from your audience in order to make your point.

The ancient Greeks held the canon of delivery in very high regard. They believed that an orator who could eloquently deliver a speech was in fact a virtuous person. The thinking being that the gift to deliver a powerful speech could only reside in a virtuous man.

The life of the famous Greek orator Demosthenes demonstrates the lengths ancient rhetoricians would take in order to master the canon of delivery. To improve his diction, Demosthenes would practice his speeches with pebbles in his mouth and even recite speeches while he ran. To strengthen his voice so he could be heard clearly in the Greek Assembly, he’d stand on the seashore and deliver his speech over the roar of the waves. All this work paid off, as Demosthenes went down in history as one of the greatest orators of ancient Greece.

While the Greeks admired men as virtuous for being able to deliver a speech eloquently, modern audiences have a tendency to be suspicious of a speaker that appears too well-polished. A charismatic speaker who can deliver a rousing speech is often seen as a silver-tongued deceiver with ulterior motives, someone who is masking his true intent with a flashy presentation. This suspicion was born in the aftermath of WWII; people felt ashamed that they had fallen under the spell of dictators who were great orators but had malicious agendas.

But for Americans, our wariness of smooth speakers goes back quite a ways more and can be traced to the cultural turn against the “genteel patriarch archetype” after the Revolutionary War and the election of Andrew Jackson as the country’s first “populist president.” Since that time, Americans have craved “authenticity” and often preferred a speaker with a bit of rough, folksy charm over one more refined and sophisticated. We saw this play out in the 2004 U.S. presidential election between John Kerry and George Bush. Many political commentators agreed the John Kerry had a hard time connecting with voters because he came off as too polished, stiff, and cerebral in debates and speeches. Bush, on the other hand, despite his occasional speaking gaffes, or perhaps because of them, was often seen as more down-to-earth–the kind of guy you’d go have a beer with–because his delivery was more rough and unpolished. He seemed authentic and approachable, and thus trustworthy. Some cultural commentators saw the election of Obama in 2008 as a victory over this suspicion for “elitism” and charismatic orators.

The Importance of Tailoring Your Delivery to Your Audience

FDR knew how to match his style of delivery to the situation.

How you approach your delivery will need to be determined during the invention stage of your speech. Find out to the best of your ability the overall demographics and cultural background of your audience. What does your audience fear? What are their desires? What are their needs? This information will help you decide if you should use a more sophisticated and polished delivery or if you should go with a more informal approach.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a master of understanding the importance of tailoring your delivery according to time, place, and audience.

When FDR took office during the Great Depression, he instituted regular “Fireside Chats,” where he would address the country on the radio to discuss what the government was doing and why. If you listen to him, say, explain the need to close banks for a banking holiday, you can hear how his delivery sounds much like a kindly grandfather patiently explaining a complicated issue in a very simple and easy to understand manner. His delivery conveys warmth, comfort, and confidence. It is easy to understand how, in a time where there was “nothing to fear but fear itself,” many Americans, in a practice foreign to most of us today, had a picture of FDR hanging in their home as if he were part of the family.

Now, if you listen to FDR’s speech after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, you can hear a much different, but still very effective kind of delivery. The nation was reeling with shock, worry, and anger, and FDR, now speaking with great force, manages to convey righteous indignation and supreme confidence.

Like FDR, Reagan knew how to effectively vary his delivery. He could often be humorous and folksy but knew how to convey sincerity and solemnity when the situation called for it, such as after the Challenger exploded.

Developing the Canon of Delivery in Oratory

Because the art of delivery in writing could be its own post, we have chosen to concentrate on how it applies to spoken rhetoric. Here are a few key tips for increasing the effectiveness of your oratorical delivery.

Master the pause. Most people are so nervous when they get up to speak that they rush through the whole thing like the Micro Machines guy. But they’re losing out on employing one of the most powerful oratorical techniques–the pause. A pause can add a bit of dramatic flair to a statement or it can help the audience really drink up an idea. The key with a pause is timing. Use it only in spots where it will be effective–places where you really want to highlight what comes after the pause. “Hello (pause) my (pause) name is (pause),” would not be such a time. Practice inserting pauses in your speech to find what works.

Watch your body language. When you’re speaking, your voice isn’t the only thing talking. Your body is also communicating. Your posture, head tilt, and the way you walk on stage all convey a message. Some occasions may require that you carry yourself in a more formal and stiff manner, while other occasions will require a more laid-back approach.

Vary your tone. Nothing will put your audience to sleep faster than a visit from android man from the year 2050. Short-circuit the flat, monotonous robot voice and keep things interesting by adding vocal inflections as you speak. Use inflections to reveal that you’re asking a question, being sarcastic, or conveying excitement. You might even exaggerate your inflections when delivering a public speech as many people have a tendency to get timid in front of an audience.

Let gestures flow naturally. If used effectively, hand gestures can give added emphasis to your words. If used incorrectly, you’ll end up looking like an octopus having a seizure. Don’t over think hand gestures; just let them flow naturally. You might want to have someone watch you practice the speech to make sure your gesticulations aren’t distracting. If they are, adjust accordingly, but don’t obsess about it; they’re part of what makes you unique as a speaker.

Nothing stops a Bull Moose’s hand gesture.

Match your speed with your emotion. How fast or slow you speak can affect the emotion you’re trying to convey. In A Natural System of Elocution and Oratory, the author gives six different speech speeds and the corresponding emotions they’re meant to elicit.

  • Rapid: haste, alarm, confusion, anger, vexation, fear, revenge, and extreme terror.
  • Quick or brisk: joy, hope, playfulness, and humor.
  • Moderate: good for narration, descriptions, and teaching.
  • Slow: gloom, sorrow, melancholy, grief, pity, admiration, reverence, dignity, authority, awe, power, and majesty.
  • Very slow: used to express the strongest and deepest emotions.

Vary the force of your voice. Force is the strength and weakness of voice. Varying the force of your voice can help express different emotions. Anger, ferocity, and seriousness can be conveyed with a strong, loud voice. This doesn’t mean you need to shout. You just need to put a little more oomph in your voice. A softer voice can convey reverence, meekness, and humility. Varying the force of your voice can also help draw listeners into your speech. For example, by speaking softly, your audience has to work a bit more to hear you. It’s almost like you’re telling a secret to your audience which is a great way to emphasis a point you’re making and to connect with your listeners. Like all tactics, this must be used sparingly…don’t make the audience strain to hear your whole speech.

Enunciate. It’s easy to trip over your tongue and slur words together when you’re speaking in public. But really focus on enunciating your words as this will make you easier to understand. I have a tendency to mumble and slur words together. A trick that has helped me overcome this is practicing speaking while holding a pencil underneath my tongue. It forces your tongue to work harder as it restricts tongue movement. When you remove the pencil from underneath your tongue, you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to enunciate without the obstruction. I’ll often do this exercise right before I do a podcast or give a presentation. Tongue twisters help with enunciation, too.

Look your audience in the eye. When you look people in the eye, you make a connection. But how can you look an entire audience in the eye? Well, if there are hundreds of people in your audience, you can’t. But you can at least make eye contact with a couple of them. As you go through your speech, work your way across the room making eye contact with several different people in the audience. You’ll get a strong connection with those people you look in the eye, but you’ll also give everyone else a chance to look you in the face which can help build a connection. Maintain contact for a few seconds. If it’s too short, you’ll seem nervous and shifty. If you look too long, you’ll start creeping people out.

Classical Rhetoric 101 Series 
An Introduction
A Brief History
The Three Means of Persuasion
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Invention
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Style
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Memory
The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Delivery
Logical Fallacies
Bonus! 35 Greatest Speeches in History

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Randy Seabolt May 4, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Another great post! I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed this series. Thanks for the hard work McKays.

I’d also like to just say thanks for the way the site stays fair and politically neutral and is able to find the good in men on all sides of the spectrum. It’s an oasis of intelligence in what is often a very dumb internet. Very, very refreshing.

2 kevin May 4, 2011 at 11:17 pm

This is a great article…I personally love standing in front of a crowd and talking. It’s like a hobby of mine, I’m just about to graduate college so in the recent past I have had to do my far share of presentations and I loved doing them…even if they were not the best.
Best thing I can say to people that need to work on talking in front of crowds is; eye contact with the whole crowed (don’t stare at one person), and move you’re body to the movement of your voice (don’t be a stick in the mud), and for the love of god if you us a power point DON’T READ THE POWER POINT people whom are their listening can read they do not need you to do it for them.

With love,
Kevin S

3 Edward V. May 5, 2011 at 12:09 am

I am a great fan of this series. Whenever I have to deliver some sort of public speech or Q&A, like at the Cal State Science Fair yesterday, tips from the series always come into my mind. I think that if you ever needed another topic for a book, this series would be great. I know I’d be first in line for a copy.

All in all, a great look at a lost art that really needs to find its way back into the minds and mouths of men. Thank you and Keep ‘em Coming.

–Edward

4 jg May 5, 2011 at 10:14 am

Back in college I wrote a paper on the 5 canons of rhetoric for my Rhetoric class. I argued that Hitler was the greatest speaker of the modern era in terms of his use of the 5 canons of rhetoric (not the content of his speeches). How else could an effective speaker influence an industrialized nation into aggression? Not by stating the agendas, but by mesmerizing the people through masterful rhetoric.

…Got an AB (A- / B+ equivalent)

5 Poultry in Motion May 5, 2011 at 10:35 am

This is a great series. I wish I had participated in a debate team or something similar while I was in college. This sort of thing is extremely useful in business. Every business deal is a negotiation after all.

Thanks for the article!

6 Andrew May 5, 2011 at 11:41 am

We just had an election here in Canada and how polished you sound really did seem to have bearing over likability. Michael Ignatieff, now the former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, is a highly-educated man but he was too polished and impersonal. The party suffered the worst defeat in it’s history and that goes all the way back to confederation, in 1867.

Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party, has an everyman quality about him – one of our major daily newspapers here even said he came off as “the kind of guy you could have a beer with”. His party, who was always in third place, is unexpectedly, the new opposition in the House of Commons.

Watch the debate and observe how each of the party leaders performs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGYE2d4LJ5M&feature=related

7 Amy May 5, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Art of Manliness never fails to provide content of significance, value and virtue. Keep up your worthy efforts.

8 Brett May 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I’ve read all of these articles, and my middle school debate club just met today. I’ve found that delivery is very important in articulating points; because I’m debating against other 14 year old guys, cases of the giggles seem to be common, and even if someone has a good point, it often isn’t articulated or understood through all of the laughter. I let myself crack the occasional joke, but I at least try to remain serious.

9 Kinana May 6, 2011 at 8:41 am

I have only just discovered this site, timely too.
A few of us are studying argumentation skills and our next gathering is tomorrow. I will let others know of this series. Thank you

10 Bruce Egert May 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm

This series of articles has been very helpful to me. I speak regularly, as an attorney, before juries, judges, clients and, lately, continuing legal education courses. Good speaking ability is invaluable to me and is something that few do well.

11 Tsosamotse May 8, 2011 at 12:34 am

Another great article, I’m getting obsessed with this series and later research and learn more about the art of rhetoric.

Back to the article. Throughout my Anglican church experience for more than 20 years, I witnessed a lot of these skills being practiced consciously and unconsiciously by our Priests and Layministers during sermon sessions. It seems to me that the more rhetoric skills on delivery the God’s word you possessed, the more you appealed to the congregations’ emotions in accepting God’s message. Our church has always provided a platform horning these for many orators who has mastered these skills e.g. Varying your tone and mastering the tone. No wonder why many great orators e.g. Martin Luther King, Malcom X have religious backgound that laid a foundation for their “deliberate practice”.

This series is very useful for one Personal Development Plan and these skills will definitely go in my PDP.

I was hoping you would share the light with next series at the end of this article now that you have completed the five canons. What’s next? I am goose bumps.

Regards,

Tsosamotse Marvin Hlabi
South Africa, Johannesburg, Vereeniging, Sharpville

12 Tsosamotse May 8, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Another great article, I’m getting obsessed with this series and I will later research and learn more about the art of rhetoric.

Back to the article. Throughout my Anglican church experience for more than 20 years, I witnessed a lot of these skills being practiced consciously and unconsiciously by our Priests and Layministers during sermon sessions. It seems to me that the more rhetoric skills on delivering the God’s word, the more you appealed to the congregations’ emotions in accepting God’s message. Our church has always provided a platform for horning these skills and this is where many orators who have mastered these skills e.g. Varying your tone and mastering the tone etc. No wonder why many great orators e.g. Martin Luther King, Malcom X have religious backgound that laid a strong foundation for their “deliberate practice”.

This series is very useful for one’s Personal Development Plan and these skills will definitely go in my PDP.

I was hoping you would share the light with the next article on rhetoric series at the end of this article now that you have completed the five canons. What’s next? I am getting goose bumps.

Regards,

Tsosamotse Marvin Hlabi
South Africa, Johannesburg, Vereeniging, Sharpville

13 Matthew Underwood May 9, 2011 at 7:15 am

So with the fifth canon behind us, is this the end?

Hopefully not, so where does this series head next?

14 Chris Gillis May 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Would love to see this series continue. Perhaps a collection of the best resources on Rhetoric you have found during your research? Also, could you please tag this article, and the last, with the “rhetoric” tag instead of the “blog” tag so they can be found with the rest of the series? Thank you.

15 Andrew August 4, 2013 at 5:53 am

Hi. I also really love the series and wanted to share with you what I think is a good example of how you can appeal to pathos through delivery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa1iS1MqUy4 it takes a few minutes until Shayne gets into delivering his speech, but I promise it is worth your time.

Thanks

16 click here December 6, 2013 at 11:23 pm

Popular chaqueta corta, pero llena de cuello suave y esponjosa, muy bonito, con Mickey Mouse diseño de la camiseta es una de las más en el puré. No creo que el aspecto de ancho en nombre de la grasa, se puso leggings ajustados y botas va a ser muy lindo.

17 nancy April 7, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Really good
Have public speaking exams tomorrow n this Canon of rhetorics bothered me
U just made it easier. Thanks.

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