Who springs to mind as a great orator? Cicero, Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr. Nowadays? Good question.
What makes a good orator? The greats we think of, from Cicero to Martin Luther King Jr, could engage people, gather support for their cause and inspire their listeners. They could deliver original, emotive speeches off-the-cuff to communicate with their people. However, with social media, politicians don’t need to use their voices to communicate with us anymore. Does that mean that they shouldn’t?
In times long gone, politicians and activists used their spoken word to carry messages to the public. During the Roman Republic, Cicero used the rostra to bring glory and triumph to himself and those he supported, while Churchill used his radio addresses during World War Two to convey strength and create unity. Spoken word was the primary method of communication with the people and now, arguably, social media makes this easier. Notably at the moment, Hillary Clinton uses a wide array of social media initiatives as part of her election campaign, which analysts believe could just swing it. Thus is the power of social media and its accessibility in winning over the public in modern politics. But does it come at a cost of engaging, emotive oratory?
That would be a shame.
President Obama has trained himself in oratory well and undoubtedly has made some very engaging addresses. Early on in his career, the president’s keynote speech at the 2004 DNC Convention launched him to fame for its inspiring, anecdotal style. Yet, despite this, a speech written by a team in an office, drafted and redrafted, loses some of the passion and emotion that is born of a true orator’s mind in a moment of inspiration, such as Cicero’s in Toga Candida or when Martin Luther King Jr told us he had a dream. Is there anyone who could create the same euphoria as he did from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial?
To take President Obama again, he comes close. His skill in oration is deliberately crafted as part of his image and recently, his obvious emotion when speaking about gun violence was very effective. Yet he still makes prolific use of social media to convey his message, demonstrating how central it is today.
Perhaps the role of an orator is more suited to a president than the Commons. It certainly seems harder to deliver a policy announcement, let alone a rousing oration from the despatch box whilst being heckled – but it shouldn’t be. Surely the role of a leader is to inspire by means of the spoken word? That is precisely what an orator does. If there is one aspect of ancient oration, which had its profane moments, that the Commons captures, it is the humorous style of insulting and undermining the opposition, which undoubtedly proves to be entertaining at times.
One politician who has roused the public in recent months is, of course, Jeremy Corbyn. Yet he is by no means an orator. Instead Mr Corbyn uses social media to share his opinions and has also taken to writing for national newspapers. This is becoming a trend in modern politics, as using social media presents politicians as more approachable and ordinary figures. Social media allows politicians to comment on issues quickly and easily, whilst saving their voices for interviews and debates.
It must be said the public also favour social media communication for its accessibility. Not many people will tune in to watch a politician’s speech, which perhaps serves to prove that a great, modern orator is missing. Videos that do go viral (such as and also support this by the sheer fact that millions of people make the effort to watch these moments of engaging, creative moments of oratory. However, this is not sustained throughout a whole speech and consequently people are not inspired in the same way to support a cause.
So to ask again: politicians don’t need to use their voices to communicate with us anymore, but does that mean that they shouldn’t?
No, it does not. As approachable and ordinary as social media may be, nothing is more moving, inspiring or human than a voice – a voice that can garner support for a cause, provoke thought, evoke emotion or even attract a following. No one in modern politics quite fits that description, but that does not mean that the orator is dead and President Obama especially gives us promise for a modern orator, and when that person comes along, the public will know it. support a cause – perhaps even with their own spoken word.