A somewhat elderly Chamber’s Etymological dictionary defines oratory as “the art of speaking well, or so as to please and persuade, especially publicly: the exercise of eloquence”.
These are fine words not generally associated with pitches where the persuasion is less public, a small team trying to persuade a few. Nevertheless, it seemed likely that Alan Yentob’s programme on BBC2 , ‘Yes We Can. The Lost Art of Oratory’, would contain some relevant insight.
The programme was enjoyable, referencing many of the expected stars from JFK, Churchill, Martin Luther King, to Shakespear’s Mark Anthony ( ‘I come to bury Caesar’) and Henry V, through to a personal favourite, General Patton, (” no dumb bastard ever won war by dying for his country, you make the other dumb bastard die for his country”.)
In a typically biting review, AA Gill criticised Yentob for lacking a clear view point. Was oratory a good thing or a selection of glib tricks? Is it content or delivery that counts? Talented wordsmith Gill says ‘ it is the written word that continues to move and sustain long after the spoken one has disappeared into thin air’.
True, but oratory aims to persuade in the present. To do this what matters, according to Demosthenes, circa 350BC, greatest of all orators, is “Delivery. Delivery. Delivery”.
Two somewhat different experts supported this. Bill Clinton, who likened his own speeches to jazz pieces, said “.. it’s nothing to do with what you say, it’s body language, tone of voice, the way you look in the eye,.. they will not remember 10% of what you say, they may remember 4 or 5 points…”
He went on to say…”measure not the beauty of the words, not how they make people think, but how they make people feel”. Geldorf was typically forthright “…the speech was an anodyne piece of crap, nonsense, but transmitted through the mouth of Obama it was brilliant..” An exercise of eloquence.