Politics Lecturers and the Art of Oratory

30/07/2013 12:14 BST | Updated 26/09/2013 10:12 BST

I would like to posit a few ideas on how an awareness of rhetorical and oratorical techniques can improve politics lectures. This is by no means a comprehensive discussion of either but is simply a very brief discussion of how classical techniques - that are used by political scientists to scrutinise political leaders - can also have relevance for politics lecturers. This develops a paper I gave to the Higher Education Academy last year, and also lays early foundations for an academic paper on the subject. It is there that I will develop these thoughts more extensively.

The art of oratory can very loosely be summed up as the means that a speaker convinces an audience of their argument. As lecturers, we can use these skills to enthuse and enlighten students, to encourage them to engage with module and energise them to engage in enquiry based learning. Philosophically oratory and rhetoric are two sides of the same coin. Whilst rhetoric is the content, oratory is the delivery of a lecture/speech. They are not the same, and must be seen as two separate art forms with different rules and devices, but given their fusion it is necessary to understand how lecturers can deliver chosen rhetoric (lectures) in an interesting and engaging manner to the audience (students). There are four dimensions which I will very briefly discuss - these are ethos, pathos, logos, and performative techniques.

An orator needs to have field-specific credibility that shines through their delivery in order for an audience to listen. For lecturers, we must possess academic credibility given that is the expected type of character. The audience needs to believe that the orator is worth listening to. Otherwise, the audience may not see the validity in listening to their arguments, and this would prevent the learning process from advancing. One way to do this is through book chapters. Although some academics may not rate them very highly, students view them in much more favourable terms thereby validating them as 'credibility builders'. Through journal articles, academic reputations are built - through books, students believe the orator has a public profile. Without that profile the orator may not prove as convincing when deploying their rhetoric.

Along with credibility is emotion. The emotional engagement of the audience can be a broad aspect of effective oratory, however in the context of politics lecturers, the most effective means is to inspire the imagination of the audience through humour. Humour can be used to present rhetoric in a manner likely to energise the audience. Quintilian argued the role of a lecturer is to 'make learning an entertainment'. Quintilian rightly suggests that by making the learning process entertaining, students will be more inclined to engage with the material, and be compelled by their own interest to conduct inquiry-based learning. To be entertaining does not necessarily mean playing an instrument but it can mean using monologues that help the orator develop a connection with the audience. To do that, an awareness of their audience and its expectations will be vital.

The duality of humour and credibility must, however be threaded together by logic. As politics lecturers, we must present arguments based upon logic and reason. In rhetorical terms, this requires us to present interesting narratives around political theories linked to real world examples. This helps break down barriers to learning. By doing so, the logic of a certain position benefits from contemporary relevance and grows the attention of the audience. By doing so the topic becomes logical even if at first the theory appears abstract and otherworldly. Clearly the most obvious means of constructing such arguments is by remaining plugged in to political debates on such issues as constitutional reform and the expenses scandal which can then be linked to historical/philosophical theories. To do this the orator must connects the attention of the students by being linguistically accessible and clear.

This brings me to the final issue, that of delivery technique. To entertain does not mean to simply amuse, but rather to ensure the audience lends their ears to the orator. For example, body language and tone of voice of an orator all contribute towards drawing the audience in. Moreover, projection, passion, enthusiasm, and a genuine affection for the subject material lay the foundations for an effective performance. These are personal traits, which are present in an orator even before a word has been uttered. Noteworthy political orators structure sentences in such a way that can aid politics lecturers. Such structuring induces the audience to listen. A classical technique, known as Anaphora, is using the same phrases are the beginning of short sentences to highlight specific points. For example "there is no war, there is no peace, there is no future". Praeteritio can be of particular use when reminding students of something without making it appear as though you are reminding them of it. For example "We do not need to examine the older divisions in the Labour party to understand Blair's leadership". By using this technique, the orator has reminded the audience of the older divisions before moving on. These two basic techniques can begin a transformation of communication that entices engagement.

These represent the very basics of how an awareness of rhetoric and orator can enhance our delivery to students. This is important given today's politics lecturer needs not only to be academically credible or politically informed but also an effective communicator. To be an effective performer one must have clarity of expression, confident body language, and a presentation style that keeps the attention of the students. We deliver monologues, we orate frequently, we have fee-paying audiences counted in the hundreds. Given most academics rightly have focused upon journal outputs and personal research interests rather than perfecting our communication techniques, it would be judicious for more consideration to be paid to how politics lecturers engage with this part of the vocation to make us both effective researchers and speakers.