Public speaking

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The Roman orator Cicero speaks to the Roman Senate.
Cicero Denounces Catiline (1889), fresco by Cesare Maccari
Skanderbeg addressing the people, 16th-century engraving by Jost Amman

Public speaking or Oratory is the process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners. It is closely allied to "presenting", although the latter has more of a commercial connotation.


  • In the tradition of popular oratory, Trash [a nickname] started a talk at random, moved confidently ahead in no particular direction, and, although he spoke very clearly, said nothing.
  • LECTURER, n. One with his hand in your pocket, his tongue in your ear and his faith in your patience.
    • Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
  • ORATORY, n. A conspiracy between speech and action to cheat the understanding. A tyranny tempered by stenography.
  • For rhetoric, he could not open
    His mouth, but out there flew a trope.
  • Poetry, unlike oratory, should not aim at clarity... but be dense with meaning, 'something to be chewed and digested'...
  • He mouths a sentence as curs mouth a bone.
  • We fear that the glittering generalities of the speaker have left an impression more delightful than permanent.
    • F. J. Dickman, Review of Lecture by Rufus Choate, Providence Journal (Dec. 14, 1849).
  • There is no true orator who is not a hero.
  • Intererit multum Davusne loquatur an heros.
    • It makes a great difference whether Davus or a hero speaks.
    • Horace, Ars Poetica (18 BC), CXIV.
  • Thence to the famous orators repair,
    Those ancient, whose resistless eloquence
    Wielded at will that fierce democratie,
    Shook the Arsenal, and fulmined over Greece,
    To Macedon, and Artaxerxes' throne.
  • List his discourse of war, and you shall hear
    A fearful battle render'd you in music.
  • I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts:
    I am no orator, as Brutus is;
    * * I only speak right on.
  • Fear not, my lord, I'll play the orator
    As if the golden fee for which I plead
    Were for myself.
  • Charm us, orator, till the lion look no larger than the cat.
  • There is nothing in the world like a persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus and upset the convictions and debauch the emotions of an audience not practised in the tricks and delusions of oratory.
  • When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington's battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.
    • Mark Twain, Letter to Helen Keller, after she had been accused of plagiarism for one of her early stories (17 March 1903), published in Mark Twain's Letters, Vol. 1 (1917) edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 731.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 572-73.
  • Solon wished everybody to be ready to take everybody else's part; but surely Chilo was wiser in holding that public affairs go best when the laws have much attention and the orators none.
    • Rev. J. Beacon, letter to Earl Grey on Reform (1831). See Plutarch, Symposium, Septem Sapientintium Convivium, Chapter XI. I. (Chilo.)
  • Ce que l'on conceit bien s'énonce clairement,
    Et les mots pour le dire arrivent aisément.
  • The Orator persuades and carries all with him, he knows not how; the Rhetorician can prove that he ought to have persuaded and carried all with him.
  • Its Constitution—the glittering and sounding generalities of natural right which make up the Declaration of Independence.
  • I asked of my dear friend Orator Prig:
    "What's the first part of oratory?" He said, "A great, wig."
    "And what is the second?" Then, dancing a jig
    And bowing profoundly, he said, "A great wig."
    "And what is the third?" Then he snored like a pig,
    And puffing his cheeks out, he replied, "A great wig."
  • Glittering generalities! They are blazing ubiquities.
  • You'd scarce expect one of my age
    To speak in public on the stage;
    And if I chance to fall below
    Demosthenes or Cicero,
    Don't view me with a critic's eye,
    But pass my imperfections by.
    Large streams from little fountains flow,
    Tall oaks from little acorns grow.
  • Allein der Vortrag macht des Redners Glück,
    Ich fühl es wohl noch bin ich weit zurück.
  • Es trägt Verstand und rechter Sinn,
    Mit wenig Kunst sich selber vor.
  • The passions are the only orators that always persuade: they are, as it were, a natural art, the rules of which are infallible; and the simplest man with passion is more persuasive than the most eloquent without it.
  • The capital of the orator is in the bank of the highest sentimentalities and the purest enthusiasms.
  • Præterea multo magis, ut vulgo dicitur viva vox afficit: nam licet acriora sint, quæ legas, ultius tamen in ammo sedent, quæ pronuntiatio, vultus, habitus, gestus dicentis adfigit.
    • Besides, as is usually the case, we are much more affected by the words which we hear, for though what you read in books may be more pointed, yet there is something in the voice, the look, the carriage, and even the gesture of the speaker, that makes a deeper impression upon the mind.
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistles, II. 3.
  • When Demosthenes was asked what was the first part of Oratory, he answered, "Action," and which was the second, he replied, "Action," and which was the third, he still answered "Action."
    • Plutarch, Morals. Lives of the Ten Orators. Referred to by Cicero, De Orators, III. 214. Oration 55, and Brutus. 234.
  • It is a thing of no great difficulty to raise objections against another man's oration,—nay, it is a very easy matter; but to produce a better in its place is a work extremely troublesome.
  • Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand,
    They rave, recite, and madden round the land.

Respectfully Quoted (1989)

  • I was very glad that Mr. Attlee described my speeches in the war as expressing the will not only of Parliament but of the whole nation. Their will was resolute and remorseless and, as it proved, unconquerable. It fell to me to express it, and if I found the right words you must remember that I have always earned my living by my pen and by my tongue. It was a nation and race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.
    • Winston Churchill, address marking his 80th birthday, Westminster Hall, London, November 30, 1954. Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897–1963, ed. Robert Rhodes James, vol. 8, p. 8608–9 (1974).
  • One woman who managed to corner him, the story runs, said in a treacly gushing voice:

    "Doesn't it thrill you, Mr. Churchill, to know that every time you make a speech the hall is packed to overflowing?"

    "It is quite flattering", Mr. Churchill replied, "but whenever I feel this way I always remember that if instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big".
    • Winston Churchill, remark on a transatlantic tour. Norman McGowan, My Years with Churchill, p. 138 (1958).
  • When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.
    • Attributed to Richard Cardinal Cushing. Everett Dirksen and Herbert V. Prochnow, Quotation Finder, p. 55 (1971). Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Then there was a maiden speech, so inaudible, that it was doubted whether, after all, the young orator really did lose his virginity.
    • Benjamin Disraeli, The Young Duke (first published in 1831; republished 1859), chapter 6, p. 19.
  • It is reputed that Mr. Disraeli when he was once asked by a new member whether he advised him to take part often in debate replied:—
    No, I do not think you ought to do so, because it is much better that the House should wonder why you do not speak than why you do.
    My advice in this matter is very much the same as that given by Mr. Disraeli; it is much better when a member resumes his seat after he has made a speech for the House to have the feeling that they wish he had gone on longer instead of wondering why he did not stop sooner.
    • Edward Algernon Fitzroy, remarks in the House of Commons, May 25, 1939, as reported by The Times (London), May 26, 1939, p. 7. FitzRoy, Speaker of the House of Commons, was quoting the nineteenth century Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield. Quoted in slightly different form in the Congressional Record, June 2, 1939, vol. 84, p. 6538–39.
  • It is amazing how soon one becomes accustomed to the sound of one's voice, when forced to repeat a speech five or six times a day. As election day approaches, the size of the crowds grows; they are more responsive and more interested; and one derives a certain exhilaration from that which, only a few weeks before, was intensely painful. This is one possible explanation of unlimited debate in the Senate.
    • J. William Fulbright, "The Legislator", lecture delivered at the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, in 1946. The Works of the Mind, ed. for the University's Committee on Social Thought by Robert B. Heywood, p. 123 (1947).
  • Every living sentence which shows a mind at work for itself is to be welcomed. It is not the first use but the tiresome repetition of inadequate catch words which I am observing—phrases which originally were contributions, but which, by their very felicity, delay further analysis for fifty years. That comes from the same source as dislike of novelty—intellectual indolence or weakness—a slackening in the eternal pursuit of the more exact.
    • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "Law in Science and Science in Law", address before the New York State Bar Association, January 17, 1899. Collected Legal Papers by Oliver Wendell Holmes, p. 230–31 (1937).
  • The art of reasoning becomes of first importance. In this line antiquity has left us the finest models for imitation;… I should consider the speeches of Livy, Sallust, and Tacitus, as pre-eminent specimens of logic, taste, and that sententious brevity which, using not a word to spare, leaves not a moment for inattention to the hearer. Amplification is the vice of modern oratory.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to David Harding, April 20, 1824. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 16, p. 30 (1904).
  • Also the two-edged tongue of mighty Zeno, who, Say what one would, could argue it untrue.
    • Plutarch, Plutarch's Lives, trans. John Dryden, rev. A. H. Clough, life of Pericles, vol. 1, p. 323 (1859).
  • Middle-aged clubwoman, with a flutter in her voice: "Oh, Mr. Stevenson, your speech was superfluous".

    "Thank you, madam. I've been thinking of having it published posthumously".

    "Oh, won't that be nice. The sooner the better".
    • Adlai Stevenson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, favorite anecdote on public occasions. Richard J. Walton, The Remnants of Power: The Tragic Last Years of Adlai Stevenson, p. 24 (1968).
  • When the mariner has been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an unknown sea, he naturally avails himself of the first pause in the storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain how far the elements have driven him from his true course. Let us imitate this prudence, and, before we float farther on the waves of this debate, refer to the point from which we departed, that we may at least be able to conjecture where we now are.
    • Daniel Webster, second speech on Foote's resolution, delivered in the Senate, January 26, 1830. The Works of Daniel Webster, 10th ed., vol. 3, p. 270 (1857). His opening remarks on the sixth day of debate.
  • It was a bit of campaign oratory.
    • Wendell Willkie, testimony, February 11, 1941. To Promote the Defense of the United States, hearings before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 77th Congress, 1st session, part 3, p. 905 (1941).
  • A member of the Cabinet congratulated Wilson on introducing the vogue of short speeches and asked him about the time it took him to prepare his speeches. He said: "It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now".
    • Woodrow Wilson. Josephus Daniels, The Wilson Era; Years of War and After, 1917–1923, p. 624 (1946).

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