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1.2: History of Public Speaking

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    Figure 1.1: Aristotle Bust - Nat'l Archaeological Museum

    As you read through this book and listen to your public speaking instructor, you will notice that there is a pretty clear formula for writing a speech. This formula is based on the tradition of Greek and Roman rhetorical practices. On the previous page we discussed how public speaking is an important skill because we live in a democratic society, thereby providing us the opportunity to express our ideas and ideals through public discourse (public speaking); verbally expressing ideas publicly is a Greek tradition. However, only adhering to the Greek tradition excludes other cultures' public speaking traditions, which are just as important. In this section we explore the Greek tradition as well as other public speaking traditions.

    Greek Tradition

    Aristotle, a student of Plato, formalized the tradition of public speaking with his work Rhetoric. In Rhetoric, Aristotle claimed that there were three types of situations requiring speeches: deliberative, epideictic, and judicial (i.e. policy changes, memorializing/celebrating an individual, arguing for a guilty or innocent verdict). Aristotle also stated that there are three important factors that must be addressed when delivering a speech: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos is the audience's perception of a speaker's credibility. Pathos is "the emotional constitution of the audience" (Shields, 2022, sec. 13). Logos is the entirety of the speech. We continue to utilize and apply all three aspects of Aristotle's Rhetoric today. In the table below, we see how to apply Aristotle's Rhetoric:

    Table 1.1 - Aristotle's Rhetoric Explained
    Ethos trustworthiness of speaker knowledge of speaker concern for well-being of audience
    Pathos audience's feeling towards speaker audience's feeling toward situation audience's change in feeling through speech
    Logos language choices evidence in speech (examples, data, stories) arrangement of ideas (main points) in speech

    Your instructor will most likely evaluate your final speech(es) on the application of ethos, pathos, and logos or will show you how these ideas can be incorporated into each of your speeches.

    Since women were not allowed in public spaces in ancient Greece, they were not allowed to participate in public speaking. Therefore women's voices were often not heard or minimized. Yet we cannot assume that Greek women did not influence public speaking. For example, one of the most important eulogies - a speech given at a funeral - was Pericles' Funeral Oration. However, a few important Greek philosophers and/or historians suggest that Pericles was an unskilled writer and, therefore, would not have been able to craft such an effective speech. Thus they attributed the creation of the Funeral Oration to his wife Aspasia (Dangour, 2021). There is no way to be sure; however, Socrates, by way of Plato, suggests that Aspasia wrote the speech. Socrates also attributes Aspasia with helping him improve his own communication skills.

    Figure 1.2: Image - Aspasia

    Roman Tradition

    Cicero (106 - 43 BC), who was born a couple hundred years after Aristotle added to the European tradition of public speaking with his manuscript De Republica, De Oratore, and De Inventione. All of these books contributed to the discipline of public speaking. Where Aristotle identified the three factors necessary to be an effective speaker, Cicero identified the five aspects in the speech-making process (see Table 1.2): invention, arrangement, style, delivery, memory (Valenzano & Braden, 2015).

    Table 1.2 - Cicero's Canon's Explained
    Invention Creating the arguments or main points
    Arrangement Organization of the arguments or main points
    Style Language choices (formal vs. informal)
    Delivery Way in which a speech is verbally presented
    Memory Ability to recall information without having to use notes

    As the popularity of Christianity grew in Europe, priests adopted, deleted, or expanded on many of the Greek and Roman rhetorical traditions. St. Augustine's manuscripts demonstrate a shift in rhetorical traditions. Augustine, born in 354 in northern Africa, traveled to Rome and Milan to teach rhetoric; however, while in Milan, he converted to Christianity. At this point he began focusing on how effective public speaking - or preaching - was necessary for teaching the scriptures to Christians (Golden, Berquist, Coleman, Sproule, 2004). Augustine continued to expand on the tradition of public speaking, but adapted an approach that focused less on style. Much of what we learn in this course is based on the Greco-Roman tradition of public speaking, which is a Euro-centric understanding of public speaking, but other cultures throughout World history have privileged different aspects of public speaking.

    Differences in Public Speaking Traditions

    Since public speaking is the performance of one person speaking in front of a group of people, it implies that ideas of the individual are more important than the ideas of the group. While this is not necessarily the case, cultures in which the ideas and will of the group are more important than the individual tend to have fewer public situations and their criteria for effective speeches is different (Power & Galvin, 1997).


    While Christianity was growing in Europe and various converts were building upon the work of the Greek and Roman traditions, a Muslim rhetorical tradition was growing and flourishing in the Middle Ages. Medieval Muslim preachers had a formula for a well-delivered speech; delivery criteria was explicitly stated (Jones, 2012). "There is a corporeal component of rhetorical eloquence, which the khatib displays through the control of his body: calmness of limbs, steady gaze, and so on" (p. 87). In addition to the importance of body movement - or lack thereof - and eye contact, "clarity, concision, and appropriate style and register were essential for the effective preaching of jihad" (p. 107).

    New Guinea

    In New Guinea, public speaking serves many purposes. Contemporaries believed that New Guinean speech was derivative of those found in Africa (Rumsey, 1986). Yet Harris (2007) stated that New Guinean public speaking functions as art, political agency, and social agency. Harris further quoted Bob Connolly's description of New Guineans, "I don’t think any culture anywhere has produced such a concentration of people with quite extraordinary oratorical ability" (para. 12). It seems that public speaking events were often places in which group relationships were tested (Rumsey).

    Native North Americans

    We have so far read about how European traditions of public speaking inform our current public speaking curriculum. Yet prior to Europeans arriving in the Americas, Native Americans had their own public speaking traditions. Unfortunately, our understanding of Native Americans' oratory is incomplete due to the fact that most of their speeches were performed within in the context of negotiations between whites and these speeches were recorded by whites (Yagelski, 1995). When one culture writes about another culture, they write about that "other" culture from their own perspective, which is then filtered through their own worldviews. However, we can gain some insight into Native American public speaking traditions.

    Yagelski notes Strickland's research with, "public speaking figured into Cherokee life in several vital ways: storytelling provided a means for transmission of myths and cultural knowledge; persuasive speeches were delivered in open meetings during which important tribal decisions were made; sarcasm was sometimes used as a means of public punishment" (p. 69). Furthermore, indigenous people of the plains were socially required to belong to smaller "clubs" or groups within their tribes and both men and women were required to utilize public speaking while participating in activities. According to Monroe (2014), the plateau Indians of the Pacific Northwest employed several rhetorical devices: personal experience as evidence, "high affect techniques in retelling that experience" (p. 22), arranging the story in a way to create the most suspense, and concluding with the thesis. Again, keep in mind, that the Native Americans primarily used oratory to convey all information; therefore, there are limited indigenous written documents detailing their rhetorical traditions.

    Moving Forward

    Now that you know about the traditions associated with public speaking, you will apply the following information throughout the course of your semester:

    Chapter Chapter Title Chapter Overview
    1 Introduction to Public Speaking Explains why public speaking is important and the history of public speaking.
    2 Communication Apprehension We will cover why so many people experience anxiety around public speaking and communicating and how we can develop coping skills.
    3 Audience Analysis This chapter covers the first step to writing your speech: figuring out who your audience is!
    4 Listening Covers styles of listening and how to become a better listener.
    5 Finding a Purpose & Selecting a Topic Before writing your speech, you will learn how to choose a topic and decide whether you are informing or persuading your audience or marking a special occasion.
    6 Research and Evidence Your speeches should be based off logic and sound reasoning. In this chapter you will learn how to research and find credible and reliable evidence.
    7 Organization and Outlining Explains various ways to arrange the main points of a speech and how to write out the parts of a speech in an outline.
    8 Introductions and Conclusions Matter Explores the various criteria of an effective introduction and effective conclusion and how to craft introductions and conclusions.
    9 Delivering the Speech In this chapter you will learn what to do with your hands (and the rest of your body) while you're at the front of the room speaking; as well as how to verbally present your speech.
    10 Presentation Aids-Design and Usage Want to use a PowerPoint or object in your speech? This chapter will cover how to incorporate those presentation aids successfully in your speech.
    11 Informative Speaking In this chapter you will learn how to write an unbiased speech purely to inform an audience.
    12 Persuasive Speaking Covers how to use appeals and evidence to change your audience's attitudes, beleifs, or behaviors.
    13 Special Occasion Speaking In the event you ever have to give a wedding toast, eulogy, or any other special occasion speech, this chapter will cover how to put together a short speech for any occasion.
    14 Mediated Communication It is no secret that technology is a big part of how we communicate now. In this chapter you will learn how to give a successful speech/presentation through technology such as Zoom, Google Meet, Teams, etc.
    15 Public Speaking Ethics Addresses the cultural reasoning behind ethical communication, types of credibility, as well as plagiarism.


    Dangour, A. (2021). Aspasia of Miletus – queen of the Athenian salon. Greece high definition. Retrieved from

    Golden, J. L., Goodwin, F. B., Coleman, W. E., Sproule, J. M. (2004). The rhetoric of Western thought: From the Mediterranean world to the global setting (8th ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt.

    Harris, R. (2007). The glory of oratory. Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine. Retrieved from

    Jones, L. G. (2012). Rhetorical and discursive strategies of persuasion in the khutba (ch. 3). In The power of oratory in the Medieval Muslim world. Cambridge University Press.

    Monroe, B. (2014). Defining principles of plateau Indian rhetoric (ch. 2). In Plateau Indian ways with words: The rhetorical tradition of the tribes of the inland Pacific Northwest. University of Pittsburg Press.

    Power, M. R. and Galvin, C. (1997). The culture of speeches: Public speaking across cultures. Culture Mandala: The Bulletin of the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies The Bulletin of the Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies, 2(2). Retrieved from

    Rumsey, A. (1986). Oratory and the politics of metaphor in the New Guinea Highlands*. In Semiotics - Ideology - Language (T. Threadgold et. al., Eds.). Sydney: SASSC.

    Shields, C. (2022). Aristotle. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Edward N. Zalta, Ed.). Retrieved from

    Valenzano, J. M. and Braden, S. W. (2015). The Speaker: The tradition and practice of public speaking. Communication Faculty Publications, Paper 16. Retrieved from

    Yagelski, R. (1995). A rhetoric of contact: Tecumseh and the Native American Confederacy. Rhetoric Review, 14(1). Retrieved from JSTOR.

    1.2: History of Public Speaking is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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