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1. The best orator is one who can make men see with their ears.

Anonymous. Arab proverb.


2. Listening to a speech by Chamberlain is like paying a visit to Woolworth’s: everything in its place and nothing above sixpence.

Aneurin Bevan (1897-1960) British politician. Quoted in Aneurin Bevan (Michael Foot; 1962), vol. 1


3. The speeches of one that is desperate, which are as wind.

Bible. Job, 6: 26


4. I do not object to people looking at their watches when I am speaking. But I strongly object when they start shaking them to make sure they are still going.

William Norman Birkett (1883-1962) British lawyer and judge. Quoted in Observer (London) (October 30, 1960)


5. I take the view…that if you cannot say what you are going to say in twenty minutes you ought to go away and write a book about it.

Lord Brabazon of Tara (1884-1964) British aviator and politician. Quoted in Hansard (June 21, 1955)


6. An orator is a man who says what he thinks and feels what he says.

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) U.S. lawyer and politician. Quoted in The Peerless Leader (Paxton Pattison Hibben; 1929)


7. The orator persuades and carries all with him, he knows not how; the Rhetorician can prove that he ought to have persuaded and carried all with him.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) British historian and essayist. “Characteristics,” Critical and Miscellaneous Essays (1839)


8. Pay especial attention to speaking in public.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) U.S. industrialist and philanthropist. Carnegie was himself a consummate orator. Private memo to himself (December 1868)


9. Grasp the subject, the words will follow.

Cato The Elder (234-149 B.C.) Roman statesman, writer and orator. Quoted in Ars Rhetorica (Caius Julius Victor; 4th century)


10. And adepts in the speaking trade

Keep a cough by them ready made.

Charles Churchill (1731-64) British curate and satirist. The Ghost (1763)


11. He is one of those orators of whom it was well said, “Before they get up, they do not know what they are going to say; when they are speaking, they do not know what they are saying; and when they have sat down, they not know what they have said.”

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British prime minister. Referring to Lord Charles Beresford (1846-1919). Quoted in Hansard (December 20, 1912)


12. Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable.

Cicero (106-43 B.C.) Roman orator and statesman. Paradoxa Stoicorum (46 B.C.?)


13. Eloquence is the language of nature and cannot be learned in the schools; but rhetoric is the creature of art, which he who feels least will most excel in.

Charles Caleb Colton (1780?-1832) British clergyman and writer. Lacon (1825)


14. If you don’t say anything you won’t be called on to repeat it.

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) U.S. president. Attrib.


15. Prepare your heart and mind before you prepare your speech.

Stephen Cove (b.1932) U.S. writer and psychologist. Thirty Methods of Influence (1991)


16. I will sit down now, but the time will come when you will hear me.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81) British prime minister and novelist. Maiden speech, House of Commons (1837)


17. An orator is the worse person to tell a plain fact.

Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) British writer. Harrington (1817)


18. All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) U.S. essayist, lecturer and poet. “Power,” The Conduct of Life (1860)


19. Public speaking is like the winds of the desert: it blows constantly without doing any good.

King Faisal (1905-75) Saudi Arabian prime minister and monarch. 1945. When, as Saudi Arabian foreign minister and delegate at the inauguration of the UN, he was asked why he was the only one not to have given a speech. Quoted in Karsh: A 50-year Retrospective (Yousef Karsh; 1983)


20. Think before you speak is crticism’s motto; speak before you think is creation’s.

  1. M. Forster (1879-1970) British writer. “Raison d’etre of Criticism,” Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)


21. I absorb the vapour and return it as a flood. William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98) British prime minister. Referring to public speaking. Quoted in Some Things That Matter (Lord Riddell; 1927)


22. I feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s fifth husband. I know what I’m supposed to do but I don’t know if I can make it interesting.

Al Gore (b.1948) U.S. former vice president. 1989. Said on being twenty-third speaker at a political dinner. Quoted in Today (March 1, 1989)


23. Oratory is dying; a calculating age has stabbed it to the heart with innumerable dagger-thrusts of statistics.

  1. Keith Hancock (1898-1988) Australian academic. Australia (1930)


24. An orator can hardly get beyond commonplaces: if he does he gets beyond his hearers.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) British essayist and journalist. The Plain Speaker (1826)


25. If no thought

Your mind does visit,

Make your speech

Not too explicit.

Piet Hein (1905-96) Danish poet and scientist. “The Case for Obscurity,” Crooks (1966)


26. Speak clearly, if you speak at all;

Carve every word before you let it fall.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94) U.S. surgeon, teacher and writer. “A Rhymed Lesson” (1848)


27. Speeches measures by the hour die within the hour.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) U.S. president. Letter to David Harding (April 20, 1824)


28 .Oratory is the power of beating down your adversary’s arguments, and putting better in their place.

Samuel Johnson (1709-84) British poet, lexicographer, essayist and critic. May 8, 1781. Quoted in The Life of Samuel Johnson (James Boswell; 1791)


29. Talking and eloquence are not the same: to speak, and to speak well, are two things. A fool may talk, but a wise man speaks.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) English playwright and poet. Timber, or Discoveries (1640)


30. Whereas logic is the art of demonstrating truth, eloquence is the gift of winning over people’s hearts and minds so that you may inspire them and persuade them in whatever way you choose.

Jean De La Bruyere (1645-96) French essayist and moralist. Characters or Manners of the Age (1688)


31. We oftener say things because we can say them well, than because they are sound and reasonable.

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) British poet. “Marcus Tullius and Quintus Cicero,” Imaginary Conversations of Greeks and Romans (1853)


32. Eloquence lies as much in the tone of the voice, in the eyes, and in the speaker’s manner, as in his choice of words.

Francois La Rochefoucauld (1613-80) French epigrammatist. Reflections: or, Sentences and Moral Maxims (1665)


33. The finest eloquence is that which gets things done; the worst is that which delays them.

David Lloyd-George (1863-1945) British prime minister. Speech, Paris Peace Conference (1919)


34. The object of oratory is not truth, but persuasion.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59) British politician and historian. The Athenian Orators (1824)


35. The most popular speaker is the one who sits down before he stands up.

John Pentland Mahaffy (1839-1919) Irish educator and scholar. Quoted in Mahaffy (W. B. Stanford and R. B. McDowell; 1971)


36. Everyone may speak truly, but to speak logically, prudently and adequately is a talent few possess.

Michel Euquem De Montaigne (1533-92) French essayist and moralist. Essays (1580-88)


37. What orators lack in depth, they make up in length.

Charles-Louis De Secondat Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher. Persian Letters (1721)


38. The mark of a true politician is that he is never at a loss for words because he is always half-expecting to make a speech.

Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-94) U.S. president. “The Campaign of 1960,” Six Crises (1962)


39. A speech is poetry and cadence, rhythm, imagery, sweep! A speech reminds us that words, like children, have the power to make dance the dullest beanbag of a heart.

Peggy Noonman (b.1950) U.S. author and presidential speechwriter. What I Saw at the Revolution (1990)


40. Oratory is just like prostitution: you must have little tricks.

Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (1860-1952) Italian statesman. Quoted in Time (December 8, 1952)


41. I never failed to convince an audience that the best thing they could do was to go away.

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866) British writer and satirist. Crotchet Castle (1831)


42. Where judgment has wit to express it, there’s the best orator.

William Penn (1644-1718) English colony builder. Some Fruits of Solitude (193)


43. His speeches are like cypress trees: they are tall and comely, but bear no fruit.

Phocion (402?-318 B.C.) Athenian general and politician. Quoted in “Phocion,” Parallel Lives (Plutarch; 1st century A.D.)


44. Rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of men.

Plato (428?-347? B.C.) Greek philosopher. Attrib.


45. What is the short meaning of this long speech?

Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) German dramatist. The Piccolomini (1799), Act 1, Scene 2


46. Even the most timid man can deliver a bold speech.

Seneca (4? B.C.-A.D. 65) Roman politician, philosopher  and writer. Letters to Lucilius (1st century A.D.)


47. Brevity is the soul of wit.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)  English poet and playwright. Said by Polonius, who did not follow his own advice. Hamlet (1601), Act 2, Scene 2


48. I am no orator, as Brutus is;

But, as you know me all, a plain, blunt man,

That love my friend.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English poet and playwright. Julius Caesar (1599), Act 3, Scene 2


49. I would be loath to cast away my speech, for besides that it is excellently well penned, I have taken great pains to con it.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English poet and playwright. Twelfth Night (1601), Act 1, Scene 5


50. It is terrible to speak well and be wrong.

Sophocles (496?-406 B.C.) Greek tragedian. Electra (430?-415? B.C.)


51. I fear I cannot make an amusing speech. I have just been reading a book which says that “all geniuses are devoid of humous.”

Stephen Spender (1909-95) British poet and editor. Speech, Cambridge Union Debate (January 1938)


52. The relationship of the toastmaster to the speaker should be the same as that of the fan to the fan dancer. It should call attention to the subject without making any particular effort to cover it.

Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-65) U.S. statesman and author. Quoted in The Stevenson Wit (Bill Adler; 1966)


53. In oratory the greatest art is to hide art.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) Irish writer and satirist. A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind (1709)


54. One may discover a new side to his most intimate friend when for the first time he hears him speak in public. The longest intimacy could not foretell how he would behave then.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) U.S. writer. Entry for February 6, 1841, Journal (1906)


55. Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech

Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-89) British writer. Proverbial philosophy (1838-42), 1st series


56. It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) U.S. writer. Attrib.


57. The keenness of his sabre was blunted by the difficulty with which he drew it from the scabbard; I mean, the hesitation and ungracefulness of his delivery took off from the force of his arguments.

Horace Walpole (1717-97) British writer. Referring to Henry Fox (1705-74). Memoires of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George II (1822)


58. If I am to speak for ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) U.S. president. Quoted in The Wilson Era (Josephus Daniels; 1946)