A Language Comes Into Existence By Means Of Brutal Necessity Learn Public Speaking Skills From Greatest Orator Ever Demosthenes

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Learn Public Speaking Skills From Greatest Orator Ever Demosthenes

Demosthenes lived from 384 to 320 BC, during which time he was recognized as the greatest orator to ever utter a word in Ancient Greece. However, he wasn’t a natural at public speaking, but that’s what makes his story all the more inspiring.

He was born into a wealthy Greek family in 384 BC, but despite the advantages it provided, he was unable to cure his disability.

Demosthenes had a terrible speech impediment. No one could understand what he was saying because of his stammer. This was so noticeable that he was given the nickname “Batalus”, which literally means “stuttering”.

To top it all off, when he was seven, his parents died and he was left in the care of guardians who continued to squander his inheritance. At the age of 20, Demosthenes found no way to support himself financially, had a crippling speech impediment and was completely alone in this world.

The only way to get her inheritance back was to go to court and sue her guardians. Athenian law stated that any citizen who wanted to sue another had to defend and represent himself in the Athenian court. Demosthenes knew that if he was to court his heartless guardians, he would have to improve his public speaking skills—for him, it was life or death.

So Demosthenes began to train. The ancient historian Plutarch describes some of the techniques Demosthenes used to improve his oratory skills.

Demosthenes would find a cave deep in the earth, far from civilization, and take with him enough food and drink for 3 months. As soon as he entered the cave, he would shave off half of his hair, so even though he wanted to go, he couldn’t because he was afraid of being embarrassed. Thus, he stayed in the cave for 3 months each time, doing speaking and breathing exercises.

One of these exercises was to fill the mouth with small pebbles and then recite long and complex verses aloud. With this, he was forced to pronounce and enunciate each word clearly. This strengthened his tongue muscles, stopped his stuttering and started to control his speech.

Another key aspect of good public speaking is breathing. It’s easy to catch your breath and start talking in a hurry. Demosthenes again fought it by stuffing his mouth with pebbles, but this time he ran to the beach and screamed. This forced him to breathe through his nose, and he was soon able to recite entire speeches as he ran out of breath.

Due to the lack of microphones at that time, speakers needed to have a strong and loud sound, which Demosthenes definitely did not have. To improve this, he would perform speeches in front of a mirror to make sure his mouth was wide open and he was breathing through his diaphragm.

After months of relentless preparation, Demosthenes filed suit against his guardians and a trial date was set. Despite all his improvements, his first court appearance was a disaster and he was laughed out of court by the audience.

Demosthenes understood that it was not only how the speech was presented that mattered, but also the content of the speech. He went and learned to write logical and meaningful speeches by reading the speeches of other great speakers.

When he returned to court to fight against his guardians again, his rhetorical skills were extremely high, to such an extent that some of the prominent politicians present immediately hired him to write their speeches.

Demosthenes had risen from orator to the greatest Greece had ever seen. If he can deliver a perfect speech, so can you.

Lessons Learned from Demosthenes

You don’t have to retire to an underground cave for 3 months, stuff your mouth with gravel, run around like crazy on beaches, or shave half your head to become a good public speaker. Chances are, your public speaking skills are good enough, it just needs some fine-tuning.

  • Speak really slowly. What you say is important and interesting, there is no need to rush. It will also give your message more weight. Imagine how a veteran judge gives a sentence, that’s what you want to achieve.
  • A break. The power of pausing between and even in the middle of sentences cannot be underestimated. This shows confidence because they know they won’t interfere.
  • Prepare. Although Demosthenes was excellent at writing speeches, he began preparing for speeches months in advance. Every word is carefully chosen and every pause is thought out. Nothing was left to chance. It is said that he answered all the remarks of his opponents and was not lucky with their sharp intelligence. Take time to prepare what you are going to say and practice in front of the mirror. Body language is also important.
  • Breathing is key. There’s a reason Demosthenes spent months working on breathing exercises, like running up and down a beach with his mouth full of pebbles—breathing is important. You should aim to inhale and exhale through your mouth. Breathing through your mouth can make you feel breathless and uncomfortable.

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