Being Presidential

In yesterday’s post about the second presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, you read a quote about the importance of preparation from the great Roman orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero, written in 55 BC.

The words are from Cicero’s essay, On the Character of Orator, in which he goes beyond preparation into all the essential skills required to be an effective presenter.  As you read the passage below, please think about how it all applies to being presidential.

Eloquence, in fact, requires many things: a wide knowledge of very many subjects (verbal fluency without this being worthless and even ridiculous), a style, too, carefully formed not merely by selection, but by arrangement of words, and a thorough familiarity with all the feelings which nature has given to man, because the whole force and art of the orator must be put forth in allaying or exciting the emotions of his audience.

Further than this it requires a certain play of humour and wit, a liberal culture, a readiness and brevity in reply and attack, combined with a nice delicacy and refinement of manner. It requires also an acquaintance withal history, and a store of instances, nor can it dispense with a knowledge of the statute-books and all civil law.

I need hardly add, I presume, any remarks on mere delivery. This must be combined with appropriate movement of the body, gestures, looks, and modulation and variety of tone. How important this is in itself may be seen from the insignificant art of the actor and the procedure of the stage; for though all actors pay great attention to the due management of their features, voice, and gestures, it is a matter of common notoriety how few there are, or have been, whom we can watch without discomfort.

One word I must add on memory, the treasure-house of all knowledge. Unless the orator calls in the aid of memory to retain the matter and the words with which thought and study have furnished him, all his other merits, however brilliant, we know will lose their effect.

We may therefore well cease to wonder why it is that real orators are so few, seeing that eloquence depends on a combination of accomplishments, in each one of which it is no slight matter to achieve success.

Cicero’s advice is just one of 75 lessons from many masters of communication—among them Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy—contained in my new book, Winning Strategies for Power Presentations, due out in December from Pearson; but available for pre-order from Amazon now.