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09 Jul 2004
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By Clare Forrest (April 2004)

The speeches of famous orators, both real and fictional, can be a fabulous tool for trainers. Clare Forrest reviews the wealth of material available on the website, which provides such speeches online

To quote Quintilian, writing in the first century AD: ‘Rhetoric is the art of speaking well.’ Presentation skills are particularly dear to my heart at the moment as my colleague Margaret Zuppinger and I have just had our trainers’ manual on this topic published by Fenman. Margaret has developed, among others, the chapters on voice and vocal projection and this month’s website is a real find for current work in this field. It’s and oh, how I wish we had known about it a year ago. And not just for presentation skills either as this website will provide many useful examples for those delivering writing skills training.

It is a website that really exploits both the Internet and the capabilities of the average PC by providing famous speeches online – not just in written form but, often, in audio form too. This gives the trainer a wonderful opportunity to play speeches to their delegates so they can really hear how a great, or even a not so great, orator sounds. And they can follow the speech with the written text too. Also, when a speech is read by another, rather than the original speaker, there is a guarantee that the text will be ‘substantively and stylistically faithful to the speech as originally delivered’. Indeed, with Lincoln’s Gettysburg address (that’s the one that starts ‘Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal …’) you can hear three versions from different speakers, which is a wonderful way to show how contrasting speakers can subtly change the message.

It is a comprehensive and intriguing database, access to which is via the home page’s left-hand column, through the Online Speech Bank link. Here are over 5,000 speeches, sermons, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, other recorded media events, and a declaration or two. All are available in full text and many in audio and video form too.

The site has been, and continues to be, developed and maintained by Michael E Eidenmuller, who is an assistant professor of speech communication at the University of Texas. However, this is no one-off database but one that is regularly updated and amended to make it current, and it includes examples from only a few moths ago. There is, for example, a complete section devoted to Iraq war speeches, including Tony Blair’s address to Congress accepting the Congressional Gold Medal.

If you’re looking for a specific speech or simply need to remember a phrase or two but not the whole speech, or you want to find specific subjects and speakers, you can use the site search tool (on the left-hand bar again), which will take you to a website search powered by Google.

The database shows clearly which speeches are available in text only and which are also in audio. Provided you have a sound card and a media player (RealPlayer, for example), you’ll find that most of the speech downloads are extremely quick and of excellent quality. If you don’t have a media player there are links on the website to enable you to get a free download. My recommendation would be to go for RealPlayer as it offers far more functions than Windows Media Player.

Thankfully, it’s not just political speeches. There are Oscar acceptance speeches, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, sermons and so on. I found some wonderful stuff, including a speech by my favourite science fiction/fantasy author Ursula K Le Guin; one from William Faulkner accepting the Nobel Prize; and one from Maximus (from the movie Gladiator) giving his opening battle address to the Roman cavalry. In fact there’s a whole page dedicated to movie speeches, which is well worth a long look. (A new movie speech is added every two to three weeks.) Another page considers Christian rhetoric (always fascinating to see how religious leaders whip up their congregations) and yet another is dedicated to the rhetoric of 9/11 where you can find a transcript of bin Laden's video discussing the attacks on the Twin Towers.

My favourite area of the website is ‘Rhetorical Figures in Sound’ (not a particularly engaging title, I admit), which is a compendium of over 200 brief audio clips illustrating 38 different figures of speech. Most of these so-called ‘figures’ were constructed, identified and classified by Greek and Roman teachers of rhetoric. They are rhetorical devices used to induce an audience to co-operate with a speaker’s persuasive purpose. For each device there’s a definition and several examples, both written and audio. Audio examples are taken from public speeches and sermons, movies, songs, lectures and oral interpretations of literature. I had no idea that there were this many devices. I was familiar with alliteration and onomatopoeia, but most of these words I didn’t know existed.

For example, the wonderful conduplicatio, which is described as a ‘figure of repetition in which the key word or words in one phrase, clause or sentence is/are repeated at or very near the beginning of successive sentences’. And, if you too didn’t follow that then here’s one of the examples: ‘This afternoon, in this room, I testified before the Office of Independent Council and the Grand Jury. I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life - questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.’ This, of course, was Bill Clinton making his famous denial about Monica Lewinsky.

If you look at nothing else, do spend a few moments considering a fascinating exercise on the use of language that is accessed by clicking the ‘Rodman and de Ref’ link under ‘Cool exercises’. You are provided with two versions of the same incident written in very different ways. It’s salutary to see how each, by the strategic use of metaphors and other devices, creates a very different effect on the reader, although the facts in each remain much the same. A couple of other exercises also worth doing include a rhetoric quiz where you can test your knowledge of famous and familiar quotes.

There is an extraordinary list of links under the heading ‘News & Info’, divided into News Sources, Newspapers, Magazines/Journals, Search Engines and – as if that wasn’t all-encompassing enough – Miscellaneous. Here, too, are links to ‘Polling data’, (that is, social and economic surveys such as Harris). While mainly US-based, this is still a remarkable list.

For those who like an intellectual challenge, there’s some scholarly material on the techniques of such masters as Socrates and Aristotle to attempt to answer the question: ‘Does rhetoric impart knowledge or merely belief, and thereby constitute a false, or at best an insincere, way of knowing?’ This is an interesting question for all of us to consider in this age of spin.

Be warned, this website can be irritating at times. Pages have been added without much consideration for the user getting back to where they started. There’s a distinct lack of ‘home’ or ‘back’ or ‘top of the page’ buttons and at times I got completely lost with pages that were dead ends. This meant that occasionally I had to feed in the main URL again to get back to the home page and I used the back button on my browser a great deal. Other oddities affect screen resolution which is sometimes recommended at 800 x 600 and sometimes at the more modern 1024 x 768.

On at least one occasion, for no discernible reason, I found a flash page (you know the sort of thing, a fancy ‘entry’ screen with a film feel which you have to bypass to get to the page you really want). You get the feeling with this website that it has had a number of web editors over the years who have decided to stamp their own mark without much thought for what has gone before. Alternatively, Michael E Eidenmuller has developed his web page building skills and likes to try out new techniques every so often. These are minor irritations though and, overall, this is a great resource and most trainers will find it invaluable.

Our sincere thanks to Clare for this month’s ‘Netcheck’. Garry Platt returns in the May issue of Training Journal.

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Quick hits****
There are a couple of great articles here on PowerPoint. One is a humorous look at some of the ways PowerPoint slide design goes wrong in the hands of the unwary. It’s also a practical guide to making slides to enhance a presentation. The other is a review of how and why good grammar matters even on slides, and how new grammar rules are evolving in the bullet-point format. There’s also some interesting links here to articles on the use of multiple choice tests.****
David Straker, a UK-HRD contributor, led me to this hilarious and marvellous site (thanks Dave) which takes a side-swipe at those motivational posters you see on business walls everywhere. I quote: ‘For longer than most can remember, motivational speakers, authors and publishers have championed the idea that within each person exists virtually unlimited potential. Now think about it - what hidden potentials exist within YOU? Perhaps you’re a wholly reasonable person, with the potential to become an irrational fool? … Or perhaps you’re a dreamer, within whom lives a potentially disillusioned grouse, simply waiting to take flight on the wings of bitterness? ... No matter who you are, you have the potential to be so very much less.’ Here’s one of their poster strap lines: ‘If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have a very easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.’ I think that gives you the flavour. Great site!

Clare Forrest would be pleased to know by snail-mail, e-mail or carrier pigeon the URLs (web addresses) of any sites that you have enjoyed, loathed or found just plain indispensable so that she can bring them to everyone’s attention. She can be contacted at or visit

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This article is from the 2004 April issue.

cover for 2004 April issue

You can buy this issue from our back issues section.