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Ciceronian Canons of Rhetoric

invention        arrangment         style         memory        delivery


As a student, the Roman orator Cicero learned that the art of oratory consisted of five separate arts; a speaker must locate his/her material, structure the speech, select the appropriate wording, commit to memory, and physically present the message.  As students of public speaking, you too must learn and practice each of these arts.



From inventio, meaning to "come upon" or "find", or perhaps better stated in modern English as performing investigative research on a given topic. 

Choosing a topic for your speech is only the beginning of the process. Most of the time when we say, for example, that our topic is "dance", what we are really saying is that "dance" is a subject we are interested in pursuing for our informative speech.  You cannot research everything to do with "dance" - what you need is a specific purpose.  By applying certain topoi or themes to your subject you can formulate a possible research statement, for example:

Before turning our attention to the next art, we should have in mind a central idea for our speech; that is, we should know what we want our audience to "get" from having listened to our speech.  



There are two parts to arrangement: 1) arrangement of the overall structure of the speech, 2) organization of the "argument" or, in the case of informative speaking, the body.

The Informative Speech:

I.  Introduction - tell 'em what you are going to say

II.  Body - say it

III.  Conclusion - tell 'em what you said


I.  Introduction:  Follow these steps in this order to secure the audience's attention, goodwill and interest.

    A.  Get Attention 

"Good morning" is a perfectly adequate way to start a speech.  For greater excellence, try beginning with  words which will grab the audience's attention and direct it favorably towards your topic.  Jokes are risky (what if it wasn't funny?), "I" statements are rude to the listeners, and one-word statement are rarely attention grabbing.

    B.  Reveal Topic

Give your audience an idea of what you are going to talk about.  Do this in an interesting way.  You want to build enthusiasm for your speech in this step.  A good rule is to relate your topic to what you know about your audience's interests.

    C.  Establish Credibility

Let your audience know what qualifies you to speak on this particular topic.  Are you an expert?  Do you have experience?  Are you simply interested and decided to do some research?  Telling your audience this allows them to give you their trust and listen more comfortably

    D.  Preview Main Points

This is your thesis; tell your audience specifically what you are going to talk about.  A good thesis is a single statement that sums up the purpose and main points of your speech.  Your thesis should include


II.   BodyDivision of your topic and organization of the main points should be made:

                                                                                     (see book for greater detail)

III.  Conclusion Remember, most audiences prefer short conclusions.  Follow these steps:

    A.  Signal End

This can be done by stating "In conclusion".  No, this is not boring and redundant - audiences need quick signposts to let them know where you are.  Other variations of "in conclusion" may be thought up.  Once you have stated you are going to conclude, do it!  Never add new main points into the conclusion

    B.  Reiterate Main Points

Remind your audience of the main points you covered.  Even in short speeches this helps the audience retain your central ideas and reinforces their commitment to what you have said.

    C.  Dramatic Statement

This summarizes and adds a finish to a speech.  Speech endings are similar to those of another aural form, music.  Some options are:



The sentence structure and wording of your speech should possess what are considered the four virtues of language: 

Clarity - Strive to be clear, concrete and concise where possible.  Avoid ambiguity, slang, jargon

Accuracy - Say what you mean/mean what you say.  Check the meanings of words and phrases before you use them.

Vividness - Select colorful words, sentences that will create pictures in the minds of the audience members.

Appropriateness - Word choice, sentence structure, even grammar and the use of technical terms should be evaluated on whether or not these elements of style are appropriate to the 

  • situation

  • audience

  • topic

Remember your message!  It is always more important to convey your message than to "sound a certain way" for the purpose of a speech.  Speak like yourself (only better).



For extemporaneous speaking, you should commit well to memory your attention getter, thesis, and conclusion.  From there, practicing in a conversational style (as if you are having a conversation with someone) the points and subpoints of your speech, is a good way encourage your familiarity with your material.  Practice talking about your main points in slightly different ways, so then when you deliver your speech you are not worried about saying things exactly perfectly.  Use a key word outline to help you remember the order of your points. Lengthy quotations, statistics and the details of the sources you are citing need not be memorized.  In fact, it often enhances a speakers credibility to refer to note cards in order to retrieve detailed specific information.



The hallmarks of good delivery are, contact, clarity, controlling distractions & confidence.  The delivery of your speech begins the moment the audience sees you are the speaker, and ends when you leave the room.  The impression you have made at this ending point is known as your terminal credibility.  To enhance your terminal credibility, stay focused on your objective as much as possible during the delivery of your speech.  What is your objective?

Effective Communication = getting your intended message across!