Cicero on the Art of Oratory


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Cicero on the Art of Oratory

Not everyone has heard of Marcus Tullius Cicero, but we think you’re going to like him by the time that you get to the end of this article. A roman statesman and philosopher, he lived from 106 to 43 BC and wrote on a whole host of subjects, including the art of public speaking.

Cicero’s impact on history, culture, philosophy and the field of public speaking is hard to overstate. Without him, the world would be a different place, not only because of his own work but also because of the thinkers that he influenced.

But what does Cicero have to teach us about the art of oratory, and how can we build on his teachings to become better public speakers ourselves? Let’s dive in and take a look.

1. Read more books

Read more books

THE QUOTE: “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: Public speakers can learn a lot from reading, just like you’re learning by reading this blog post. Books are like blog posts on steroids, providing a wealth of information that can teach anyone to become a better public speaker.

2. We need to learn from the past

We need to learn from the past

THE QUOTE: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: They say that time flows like a river and that history repeats. We can all learn from the past, no matter what field we’re in, but Cicero and this quote in particular are a great reminder that we can learn lessons from the past and apply them to our future.

3. Integrity is key

Integrity is key

THE QUOTE: “If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: Public speakers owe it to their audience to have integrity. In other words, you should never provide people with advice that you wouldn’t follow yourself, and you shouldn’t try to sell people on something that you don’t believe in.

4. We should be more approachable

We should be more approachable

THE QUOTE: “The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: For your public speaking engagements to be as effective as possible, you need to make sure that people feel as though they’d happily go for a drink with you. Where possible, encourage people to come up to you after your session and to ask any further questions that they have or just chat with you.

5.  Find solutions, not problems

Find solutions, not problems

THE QUOTE: “I criticize by creation, not by finding fault.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: If you go up on stage and spend the entire time complaining about things or talking about the wrongs that you see, you’ll quickly turn people off and stop them from listening to and learning from you. Instead of finding faults, find and share solutions.

6.  We can learn from our mistakes

THE QUOTE: “We must not say every mistake is a foolish one.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: We all make mistakes from time to time, and even the very best public speakers aren’t invulnerable to this. We owe it to ourselves to recognize our mistakes and to learn from them wherever possible to become better public speakers and better people.

7. Know that there are things that you don’t know

Know that there are things that you don’t know

THE QUOTE: “I’m not ashamed to confess I’m ignorant of what I don’t know.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: One of the worst things we can do as public speakers is to try to trick our audience into thinking that we know about something that we don’t. They’ll find out that they’ve been lied to and won’t appreciate it. It’s better to say “I don’t know” than to try to guess.

8.  Avoid unnecessary words

Avoid unnecessary words

THE QUOTE: “When you wish to instruct, be brief [so that] men’s minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson and retain it faithfully. Every word that’s unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: Brevity is key. The more unnecessary words we use, the more we dilute our message and stop people from remembering what we want them to remember.

9. Silence speaks volumes

THE QUOTE: “Though silence is not necessarily an admission, it’s not a denial, either.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: Silence can work both for you and against you. In some cases, pausing for a moment can be an effective way of highlighting a point that you want to make. But if you’re silent when someone asks you a question, it can lead to them thinking that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

10. Persuasion is the ultimate victory

Persuasion is the ultimate victory

THE QUOTE: “To teach is a necessity, to please is a sweetness, to persuade is a victory.”

WHAT WE CAN LEARN: Cicero shows us that we’re all teachers, whether we mean to be or not. We all influence the people around us, and so it falls to us to make sure that we’re teaching what we want to teach. He also shows us that teaching is one thing, but persuasion is quite another. We’re at our best when we’re able to persuade people to change their outlook or their behaviors.


Now that you know a few of the lessons that we can learn from Cicero, it’s over to you to let us know what you think. Are there any other Cicero quotes that you think we should have included? And who would you like to learn from next?

As always, be sure to let us know what you think in the comments so that we can keep the discussion going, and to follow us on your social networking sites of choice for more. We’ll see you soon for another article!

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