The Power of words: first step to good oratory

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Being recognised as an orator is gratifying by all standards. Don’t we see hair rise on its end imagining Mark Antony greeting his people with “Friends, Romans, country men!?” How Winston Churchill’s phrase “New Structures of national life erected upon blood, sweat and tears” changed the outcome of a war in his country’s favor? Didn’t Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech at the stroke of the midnight hour in the first parliament of independent India set the course of freedom, dignity and self rule for a nation purged of centuries of slavery, self doubt and low personal esteem? 


A towering orator leaves any listener awestruck. There are good speakers in all fields and occupations. They do better in meetings, presentations and negotiations. All good teachers are good speakers and communicators first. 


However, some aspirants give up easily on their own dreams of being orators and do not even try. By an error of judgment, they concur that some people are born with a gift of the gab and not everyone can dare to speak publicly.


The very first step is a change of heart. Key is to fill yourself with the confidence that communication is not an innate talent but actually a skill. And a skill can be mastered by anyone with the right attitude and a lot of dedicated hard work. 


Famous speakers you look up to or your friends and colleagues who communicate suavely, they have all become successful by working upon their language, delivery and connection with the audience. Speech is a gift to all of Homo sapiens without any exceptions. So begin with believing in the power of the word. If you thought numeracy, scalability and measurability are all it takes to define substance, you are right, but the definition becomes meaningful, coherent and communicable only when composed in words. So it is time to proselytize to the power of words.  


In the Holy Quran (55: 1 – 4) the Almighty says ‘The most merciful, taught the Quran, Created man, (and) taught him eloquence’. This ability with words, speech and language is the distinguishing feature of mankind. No other species is blessed with eloquence the way we are.


English Naturalist Charles Darwin famously stated in his 1871 book The Descent of Man that “it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term ‘man’ ought to be used (in the history of species emergence and extinction in the journey of evolution)”. To this Max Muller, a linguist, soon laid out the challenge that “language is our Rubicon, and no brute (ape) dares cross it”. 


Non-human species do have a way to communicate. Touch, smell, sight, calls and songs, postures and nuptial dances, pheromones in ants to signal the right path and the tiger marking its territory with urine, are all means of communication amongst classes of birds and animals. Many of them are quite ingenious too. A distress call of a koel is very distinct from a mating call – which is a beautiful song with notes and interludes. A male peafowl carries its bulky tail along but never spreads it out in a spectacular peacock dance unless a potential peahen is not in sight. The cat purrs peacefully but stiffens up to scare away an attacker. Yet, no sentient being is able to speak, listen, to, read or write like we do. Hence, no other species has achieved the physical and spiritual progress like man has since it found existence in the primordial times. 


Millions of characters emerged and faded over the timeline of human evolution, but the occurrence of language was one such defining moment that radically changed human society. Natural selection favored this trait like no other trait, and here we are. Amongst the characters included in the narrow window of just 2% genetic supremacy that we have over chimpanzees and bonobos, language is one for sure.


In his bestseller ‘Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life’ (Allan Lane Penguin Random House 2021) internationally acclaimed public intellectual Jordan B Peterson writes about The word as saviour as part of Rule IX entitled ‘If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely’. Drawing from the Judeo- Christian tradition Peterson further elaborates (Pg 258 – 259):


God has an attribute, or an alternative Person, or a faculty, or tool that aids Him or that he relies on when confronting possibility and the void. That is the Word – from the Christian perspective – but certainly the capacity for speech, regardless of religious framework, Jewish or Christian. There is a continuous insistence in Genesis on the importance of speech. The act of creation on each day begins with the phrase “and God said” (with additional emphasis on the act of naming “and God called”). The seven days of creation begin:


And God said, Let there be light and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.


The Word – the tool God uses to transform the depths of potential is truthful speech.


The emphasis of the Bible on the act of naming is reiterated in the Holy Quran too.  It says in 2:31 ‘And he taught Adam all the names, then showed them to the angels, saying: inform me of the names of these if you are truthful.’ This was when the Angels were questioning His decision to send a creature named man as His deputy on Earth. The Angels thought they were enough to praise, glorify and worship the Almighty day and night. But He drew a distinction between man and angels. Humans know the names. And they are words. 


The ability to have a name for every tangible object in matter, discernible processes of the biotic and abiotic spheres or intangible abstract ideas and feelings, is unique to the children of Adam. Not even angels. 


So pay attention to your words, speech and eloquence. Make it a tool for self growth. It can confront the shapeless and formless in your inward and outward world. Just go get the name and recall it at the right time. You will notice the difference it makes in your raised levels of sophistication. 


There is a long way to go. A step at a time. One needs to chisel expression, take charge of the situation and continuously hone with careful reading, listening and repeating, but putting your faith in the power of words is the first step to being a good orator.



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