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Public speaking by Brian MacArthur

Oratory has always been a declining art. Every generation judges contemporary speakers unfavorably against the giants of the past. According to Peggy Noonan, author of some of Ronald

Reagan's most memorable oratory, the irony of modern speech­es is that as our ability to disseminate them has exploded, their quality has declined.

Why? Lots of reasons, including that we as a nation no long­er learn the rhythms of public utterance from Shakespeare and the Bible. When young Lincoln was sprawled in front of the fire­place reading Julius Caesar — "The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins remorse from power", —he was, unconsciously, learn­ing to be a poet. You say, "That was Lincoln, not the common man". But the common man was flocking to the docks to get the latest installment of Dickens off the ship from England.

Modern politicians don't really know what "the common man" thinks any more, they forget that we've all had at least some education and a number of us read on our own and read certain classics in junior school and high school. The guy at the gas station read The Call of the Wild when he was fourteen, and sometimes thinks about it. Moreover he has imagination. Politi­cians forget. They go in for the lowest possible denominator — like a newscaster. Speeches today are prepared only for the "sound bites" demanded by television.

However, oratory still flourishes but the style of oratory is changing. The sense of drama, that still attends a major speech, is captured by Peggy Noonan. "A speech is a soliloquy", she says, "one man on a bare stage with a big spotlight. He will tell us who he is and what he wants and how he will get it and what it means when he does or does not get it.... He looks up at us in the balconies and clears his throat. "Ladies and gentlemen...." We lean forward, hungry to hear. Now it will be said, now we will hear the thing we long for. A speech is part theatre and part political declaration; it is personal communication between a lead­er and his people; it is art, and all art is a paradox, being at once a thing of great power and great delicacy. A speech is poetry: cadence, rhythm, imagery, sweep! Speeches are important be­cause they are one of the great constants of our political history. They have been not only the way we measure public men, they have been how we tell each other who we are... They count. They more than count, they shape what happens."

Amidst the lazy illiteracy of so much modern speech, elo­quent words still have power to make audiences stop and think and sometimes even wonder. Our political leaders still search for the writers who can gild their prosaic visions.

Comprehension and discussion questions:

  1. What is Peggy Noonan famous for?

  2. Who does the author mean by using pronouns "we" and "you" in the second paragraph of the article?

  3. Why is oratory art? In what direction is it going?

  4. How important are political speeches in American political history? Why?

  5. How important are political speeches in British and Russian political history? Why?

Exeircise 9

Explain who/what the people mentioned in the article were: William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Ronald Reagan. What are they famous for?

Who wrote "The Call of the Wild"? What is it about?

Exeircise 10

Interpret the following.

  1. But the common man was flocking to the docks ...

  2. They go in for the lowest possible denominator — like a newscaster.

  3. Speeches today are prepared only for the sound bites.

  4. Our political leaders still search for the writers who can gild their prosaic visions.

Exeircise 11

In the article find the antonyms for the following words. Think of the synonyms.

  1. flourishing, rising

  2. to collect, pick up, assemble

  3. outstanding, distinguished

  4. to unite, merge

  5. senior, elder

  6. to degenerate into, decline

  7. learning, education

Exercise 12

Translate into English using the new words and phrases.

  1. Русская православная церковь, находившаяся в упадке еще несколько лет назад, сейчас процветает.

  2. Политическая проницательность Линкольна была под­тверждена всем ходом американской истории.

  3. Защитники окружающей среды используют каждую возможность, чтобы распространять свои идеи.

Exercise 13

Write a composition: "The attributes of a competent public speaker".


Read the following, sum it up and explain how you can make your speech convincing.

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