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09 - The Five Canons of Rhetoric

The tradition of public speaking has a rich history dating back thousands of years. The Greeks and Romans are credited as great orators who helped to develop the art of persuasion. Cicero, a Roman lawyer and politician, wrote a series of four books including De Inventione that detailed what are called the classic canons of rhetoric.

How can rhetorical theories developed over 2,400 years ago be put into practice today?


This canon refers to the creation of speech topics. What are you going to talk about? What are your ideas?


This canon refers to speech organization. How are you going to organize your thoughts and ideas?


This canon refers to your word choice. What style of language will you be using? How will your words impact your audience?


This canon refers to preparation, not memorization. You need to “own your material” or “internalize” the material in order to present it effectively. Practice is a huge part of effective public speaking. Practice can not only reduce speech anxiety, it can help you become a polished and extemporaneous speaker.


This canon refers to your delivery style and how you use your voice and body to deliver your message. Are you making eye contact? Are you changing your pitch, tone, volume, and rate? What message is your body movement conveying?

These canons are just one way you might approach speechmaking and persuasion in particular.

One of the other ways to address your persuasive arguments is to incorporate:

Aristotle’s “Three Proofs”

Ethos: your credibility, believability

Pathos: use of emotions

Logos: use of evidence and reasoning

The intent behind presenting these different rhetorical methods of public speaking is to show you there is not “one way” to do something. But in order to be effective you must consider all options available which can strengthen and validate your decisions.

09 - The Five Canons of Rhetoric
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