In addition to being a lawyer, politician and philosopher, Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) was also a preeminent Roman orator. Drawing on the teaching of Greek rhetoric and the craft of oration in Roman times, he composed De Oratore to highlight the principles he believed were at play whenever someone planned to speak on an important topic.
While political speeches and legal proceedings were at the forefront of public speaking during this time, the concepts presented here are valuable in the drafting of any nonfiction narrative. Written in 55 BC, and comprised of three books, De Oratore is a dialogue that is set in 91 BC.
Cicero shares a dialogue, reported to him by Cotta, among a group of excellent political men and orators, who came together to discuss the crisis and general decline of politics. They met in the garden of Lucius Licinius Crassus’ villa in Tusculum.
Marcus Antonius speaking to Catulus:
For mankind make far more determinations through hatred or love or desire or anger or grief or joy or hope or fear or error or some other affection of mind than from regard to truth or any settled maxim or principle of right or judicial form or adherence to the laws.
It’s common to believe we make decisions based on logic first and emotions second – does it make sense, and then, do we like it – but sadly the reverse is our reality. Our choices need to feel good first, and if they do, then we look toward the facts as a way to seal the deal.
It’s the same process in storytelling, as well in storylistening. Too often a speaker will want to offer information as their narrative’s foundation, layering on the human elements afterward. I encourage clients to change course and give listeners a reason to empathize before engaging their brains. As I see it, information invites judgement, while emotions invite connection.
Antonius then offers:
The feelings of the hearers are conciliated by a person’s dignity, by his actions, by the character of his life; particulars which can more easily be adorned by eloquence if they really exist than be invented if they have no existence.
While the previous passage dealt with two elements of Aristotle’s rhetoric; Pathos (emotions) and Logos (logic), in this case, however, Antonius is addressing the mysterious nature of the third element – Ethos (ethics).
What is the audience’s gut feel about the speaker? Do they feel he or she is honest, authentic and trustworthy? Some speakers will stretch the truth a bit, embellishing their abilities and track record as a way to impress the audience. But in such cases the audience will usually see through a smoke screen of eloquent delivery.
Keep these observations in mind as you think about the sequence of your story blocks. If the audience believes what you’re saying, then finds their heart touched by your words, and the logic holds up, you will maximize the impact of your story.
[De Oratore excerpts from Delphi Complete Works of Cicero, Translated by J. S. Watson]
Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates!
Copyright Storytelling with Impact – All rights reserved