Chapter 9: Oral presentations


Translated from the online collection catalogue of the Rijksmuseum:

An orator gives a speech about Kantian philosophy to a sleeping audience, Jacob Ernst Marcus, 1800-1805. The print is part of a series of caricatures of society from around 1800.

For all information provided in the online catalogue, click here, or on the picture above.


How terribly boring an oral presentation can be! Anyone who has ever had to endure speeches by speakers who did not realize that a good speech needs more than just sound information to captivate the public, can confirm this. It is true now, and it was true around 1800, as Jacob Ernst Marcus shows us with his caricature of a tedious speaker. It was also true centuries ago when Greek - and later Roman - speakers were faced with the task of informing their listeners, convincing them of their views, and, if possible, entertaining them. That was no easy task. They had to be trained for this by skilled rhetoricians, the professional communication experts of the time.

The Greek Aristotle and the Roman Quintilian are the classical rhetoricians whose work is best preserved. Their advice is still used, and often with great success. This is showcased in the speeches of, for example, Barack Obama and Frans Timmermans, who employ techniques that were already recommended by Aristotle and Quintilian. Their techniques are still used to adequately cover logos, the factual side of the message, to achieve a favorable ethos, the image that the speaker wants to convey of himself, and to evoke the desired emotions in the audience with pathos. Styles such as the tricolon - Caesar's “Veni, vidi, vici” and Lincoln's “Government of the people, by the people and for the people” - are still popular. Also compare, for instance, Obama’ frequent use of the tricolon in his speeches, for example when he said "Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered", "We must pick up ourselves, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America" and "You're still betting on hope, you're still betting on change and I am still betting on you".

Chapter 9 outlines the ways in which beginning speakers can still benefit from the good advice that the classical rhetoricians gave to the orators of their time. Classical terminology is not avoided in this chapter. Why should a modern communication textbook not refer to the speaker's duties as inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria and actio? That is what they were called 2500 years ago, that is what they were called in 1800 when Jacob Ernst Marcus made his beautiful print, and that is what they can still be called today.