For Better Public Speaking Skills, Try These 3 Classical Speeches

classical-rhetoric-speechesWhy Homeschoolers Should Try These Three Classical Speeches

In the Greco-Roman and medieval world, classical orators gave three kinds of speeches:  political, legal, and ceremonial.  Classical rhetoric identifies them as deliberative oratory, forensic oratory, or epideictic oratory.  Although these are ancient forms of communication, they are timeless speeches in that they’re still practiced effectively today in the public realm including legislatures, courts, and community gatherings.  You can easily add these three speeches to your 7th-12th homeschool curriculum to improve your teen’s critical thinking, writing, and public speaking skills.

Here’s a quick primer to use in your middle and high school speech curriculum along with 15 related speech prompts for homeschool public speaking practice.

Political Oratory Is Concerned about Future Policy

The term “deliberative” oratory originates with usage; elite orators deliberated over public affairs such as whether to go to war, whether to raise taxes, whether to enter alliances, and whether to construct infrastructure like bridges and baths. The point of deliberative or political oratory was to persuade the audience to do something or accept a certain point of view. Concerned with the future (either we will or will not do it), political orators focused on expediency (the opportunity is now…let’s do it) and inexpediency (it is not wise or prudent to take this action) by exhorting (strongly urging) and dissuading (advising against) the audience.

Deliberative oratory is still practiced today in the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and in state and municipal centers around the country. Homeschool teenagers who participate in local, regional, and national debate competitions like the NCFCA or STOA engage in deliberative oratory as they seek to persuade the judge to adopt either the affirmative or negative position.

Here are 5 political speech prompts to get you started:

  • A fourteen year old should be able to get a drivers’ license if he can prove he has to work to support the family.
  • Women who want to be officers in the U.S. Marine Corps should pass the same physical fitness test as men.
  • Children of illegal immigrants should be allowed to go to in-state college for free.
  • U.S. health care workers should have the freedom to serve in African nations with ebola outbreaks.
  • The use of chimpanzees in scientific research should be banned.

When brainstorming about more political speech prompts, think in terms of U.S., foreign, or state policy.  What laws need to be changed?  Choose a position and argue for or against.

Legal Oratory is Concerned with Past Injustices

The term “forensic” is often used in relation to crime scene evidence, but the Latin root of forensic is actually “forum” which was the central gathering place in ancient cities where judicial and public business was discussed. Public speakers who delivered forensic or legal oratory usually advocated the defense or condemnation of individuals and their related actions. Unlike deliberative or political orators, forensic orators are concerned with justice.  Arguments are about the past like crimes committed, charges unjustly brought, or behavior that needs public reckoning. Speeches either defend or accuse.

Today’s forensic oratory is most often heard in courtrooms as attorneys plead the cases of their clients before judges. In fact, law schools still consistently teach a variation of this classical discourse.  Homeschool platform speeches could include the defense of past historical actions or people thereby qualifying as legal oratory.

And 5 legal speech prompts to spice up your homeschool day…

Practice your critical thinking, organization, and public speaking skills by outlining your argument on a notecard.

  • Circus owners, zoos, and theme parks like Sea World should be fined for capturing and abusing wild animals.
  • Teeth-whitening services should only be offered by members of the American Dental Association.
  • Food trucks should be allowed to park outside established restaurants in order to sell from their menu.
  • If the U.S. Government has reason to believe you are engaged in terrorist activities, it should be able to seize your bank account without warning.
  • Veterinarians should be allowed to give medical advice over the internet even if they have never physically examined your pet.

Ceremonial Oratory is All About Present Praise or Condemnation

Epideictic, a greek derivative, means “for display,” so it shouldn’t surprise you that I choose to call this type of classical discourse “ceremonial.” Demonstrative or declamatory in nature, the ceremonial speech intended to please, to inspire, to entertain, or to shame. Concerned with the present, topics most often included honor or dishonor. The means by which the ceremonial orator got his message across were either praise or blame. The nature of the speech lends it to literary style more so than the other two kinds of classical discourse.

Although politicians often find themselves using this speech when introducing their superiors (praise) or their rivals (blame), we most often hear this kind of discourse at celebrations like Fourth of July Parades, Memorial Day Services, and other public ceremonies. Pastors often employ this style even though they also use the deliberative discourse to encourage their congregation to do the right thing.

The Gettysburg Address is a contemporary example of a ceremonial speech.  You don’t need a ceremonial occasion to give this kind of speech…homeschool students could include ceremonial content in impromptu speeches or in platform speeches.

Finally, try these 5 ceremonial speech prompts:

  • Sesame Street’s Big Bird is a better role model than Barney the purple dinosaur.
  • Little boys and girls who rescue abandoned kittens should be recognized in the local newspaper.
  • Why my Dad should win an award for bravery
  • Your thoughts on accepting the Hamster Handler Award
  • Why your are nominating your little brother for the Best Practical Joker Status

Review:  Classical Speeches 

When creating your homeschool curriculum for the semester, consider sampling these three kinds of classical speech or discourse:

TYPE Purpose Concern Method
Political Pass (Reject) Future Policies Exhort (Dissuade)
Judicial Preserve (Condemn) Past Justice (injustices) Defend (Accuse)
Ceremonial – Entertain or inspire (shame) Present Honor (Dishonor) Praise (Blame)

If you think about who delivered these three types of classical discourse and what positions they held in society, you quickly see that they were all societal leaders. Politicians, legislators, executives, lawyers, judges, pastors, and others of importance to the community employed the systematic tools of classical rhetoric to impact their culture in significant ways. If you hope to raise leaders, then you need to consider how classical rhetoric factors into your homeschool curriculum plans for teaching them effective communication.



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