Monday, 6 April 2009

Language and Oratory

I don't know if you caught "Yes We Can: The Lost Art of Oratory" on BBC2 last night (you can watch it here on BBC iPlayer if you missed it).

I'd suggest it as a must-watch for any politico (so, probably, you if you read this blog!) who is interested in how politicians shape their message. It's also probably pretty interesting for fans of The West Wing (oh, how I miss it!) with a couple of clips from the show used to illustrate points.

Here's one quote from President Bartlet on the show, used in the documentary to illustrate just how oratory works. I think it captures the point beautifully.

"Words, words, when spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and timbre and volume. These are the properties of music and music has the ability to find us and move us and lift us up in ways that literal meaning can't."

That, for me, is what a good speech does. It rises and falls with crescendo and diminuendo. It has a flowing melody and takes you on a journey from start to finish. And a good orator will use the same techniques that a musician will to maintain your attention.

Anyway, the point is, if you have a spare hour, watch the documentary. It is pretty good.

Alternatively, if you only have five minutes, you can watch this Fry and Laurie sketch with Stephen Fry using language to tie himself in knots. Kinda makes the same point (I think - if you look close enough!).


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