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Public speaking between classical oratory and soft skills of the contemporary world

We often ask ourselves how we could improve our public speaking skills, or train our aptitude for this mode of communication.
There are in fact many areas in which the public speaking finds application, from professional to everyday life, such as school and condominium assemblies, participation on videoconferencing platforms, etc.
A skill and at the same time a communication need that is more current than ever, capable of increasing our self-empowerment, our soft skills, and also of offering us new perspectives.

But when was the focus on the ability to communicate in public born, and why?

The value of knowledge good public speaking it has been notoriously “discovered”, recognized and cultivated since ancient times, which has made it a central way of progressing knowledge and knowledge, and which has based on it a large part of the socio-political thought that has led to the delineation of the model itself of democracy, and which furthermore, for centuries, has based on it professional logics such as that of forensic practice, and of the acquisition and maintenance of power in the context, for example, of politics.

classical world

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The life and association of the ancient Greeks in the Agora, in the city square of Athens, certainly could not ignore this ability. The philosopher Plato, in talking to us about Socrates and dialectics, indicates how dialogue and the comparison of different positions must be supported by the good, and ultimately good, ability to argue, which to lead to true knowledge can only have as its object and objective the good and the true.

While the sophists practiced dialectics essentially as a pure technique, going so far as to carry out argumentation exercises in which they tried to support a certain thesis in a first speech, and immediately afterwards, in the following speech, its opposite, Socrates instead, in the dialogues with his fellow citizens, and behind him Plato who describes him to us, saw “good dialectics” in that argumentative ability that searches for and brings closer to the truth, the right, the gooddiscriminating between the field of truth and that of simple “opinion”.

To summarize extremely, we could say that many of the acquisitions of civilization, culture and greatness of the West are due to this path of search for true knowledge, of which dialogue, a well-focused dialogue, was an essential instrument.

now greek

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Antiquity attributes central importance, in addition to dialogue and the comparison of arguments as a source of knowledge, to speech, understood as “professional”, official and public speech, addressed by a sender to multiple recipients. And not a purely “theoretical” speech, but one followed by concrete decisions and actions, for example in the political and military sphere, as Roman eloquence testifies to us.

A point of reflection in particular recurs among ancient authors throughout the history of the theory of speaking well: that is, whether in speaking to persuade, by profession, by professional necessity as in the case of lawyers, the thesis that is supported is in conformity with the truth or morality.

Cato, who was one of the greatest Latin orators of his time (between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC), gave the example of the orator as an “honest man expert in the art of speech” (in Latin: vir bonus dicendi peritus), and summarizing his teaching on speaking well in a formula, he invited us to “keep the topic well in mind, the words will follow by themselves” (in Latin: rem tene, verba sequentur). As the Latinist Pierre Grimal tells us (La litterature latine, Presses Universitaires de France, 1992), eloquence, for Cato, is nothing other than the natural expression of a vigorous thought, sure of its own truth.

Less than two centuries later, Guide, a Latin writer and orator, the very symbol of Roman eloquence, who dedicated a large part of his study and research to the art of oratory, strengthened the concept expressed by Cato by maintaining in De atore that “the abundance of arguments generates that of words ” (in Latin: rerum copie verborum copiem gignit). His considerations on eloquence led him to reflect, as well as on the rules for practicing it, on the very person of the orator, seen as a civic and human ideal, as a universal thinker, who must thoroughly know everything about which he may find himself obliged to speak, but it must also, as Grimal again underlines, overcome all particular techniques, and be a true artist of the word who must persuade with grace, and at the same time be a philosopher to discover the profound reasons for things every time. In this way Cicero outlined an ideal figure destined to reach the present day as the very image of humanism.

ancient and modern orator

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So what is good speech? An exercise in argumentation and style, therefore “method”, on the one hand, and on the other hand, in particular, content, or rather good content. A good and valid content such as “truth”, knowledge, conveyed by a particular ability to pose it, to outline it, which is the focus on the topic itself, with the aim of sharing it, in the belief that this is precisely the driving force of a good speech: a valid argument, to be kept in mind, to present it, make it known and therefore best share it with those who listen to us. Something therefore that deserves all the possible conviction so that it is presented as it deserves, making everyone understand how much it is worth.

A great importance given to the “what”, as well as naturally to the “how” therefore come into play, in the past as today, in the ability to speak in public.

Chris Anderson, curator of TED, the annual conferences of global importance relating to technology, entertainment and design (TED, as the web reminds us, is the acronym of “Technology, Entertainment, Design”, title of the first event organized in 1984 which It then transformed into an annual conference in 1990, and has become a media organization dedicated to spreading ideas globally, with the aim of share reflections on various topics including society, science, art, culture, innovation, technologythrough short and effective speeches, called “TED talks”), explains how, together with the tricks to become excellent speakers, such as rehearsing the speech endlessly, arousing empathy, wearing the right clothes, those who speak must force themselves to be alone an instrument, and must put the fear of a potential fool into the background, and instead let an idea capable of being an inspiration to others take to the stage.
In his text “The best speech of your life. How to learn to speak in public” (Milan, Mondadori, 2017, translated by Dario Ferrari), Chris Anderson underlines that to make “the art of speaking effectively” accessible to the contemporary world, in order to witness the modern rebirth of art of public speaking, wherever it occurs and whoever puts it into practice, it must be kept in mind that the only thing that really matters is having a topic worth talking aboutand find ways to do it in an authentic and personal way.

It is truly useful advice, very important to keep in mind every time in which, with a more or less large audience, in any context we may find ourselves, the need arises for us, or the opportunity, to exercise this skill in this way. modern, and at the same time this very ancient and founding art, to which we all and our own civilization are so linked and so indebted.

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