Oratory Skills

Oratory Skills and Exercises

Maya Angelou was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist. 

Skills to Practice

The following is a list of oratory skills to practice. Pick several to work on each time. The most important thing is to have fun, try out new things, learn new skills, and find you what style of public speaking works best for you. 

  • Eye Contact
    • With specific individuals
    • With the group as a whole
    • Conscious breaks and pauses to create interest
    • Look away then back before starting: Look at the group, look away briefly (creates interest in the viewer) look back, make eye contact and start
  •  Body Posture
    • Upright
    • Confident
    • Hands in front 
  • Body Movement
    • For transitions
    • To build or keep suspense
  • Gestures
    • Show (conveys emotion)
    • Give (hand up, invites openness)
    • Tell (hands down, makes a point, gives direction)
    • Point (accusation)
    • Sign post (First, second, third, etc.)
  • Articulation (speaking clearly)
  • Vocal emphasis and variety
    • Volume (how loud or how soft)
    • Speed (slow down or speed up)
    • Pitch (change octaves)
    • Rhythm (variation of strong and weak elements)
      • Example: Duration of the  accent
      • Example: iambic beat in poetry
  •  Silence
    • Pauses before, during and after the speech 
    • Draws attention and emphasis 
  • Hooks and rhetorical devices
    • See section on advanced public speaking
    • Try identifying these in speeches your are watching
    • try using these in speeches your create


Exercise 1: Tell a Fairy Tale

  • Telling a fairy tale is a wonderful low pressure way to have fun and practice your skills. Telling a good story is fundamental to being a trial attorney. 
  • Try talking rhythmically, in phrases (a couple of words at a time), tell us the story,  pausing after each group of words

Exercise 2: Read a Poem

  • This should be relatively short and can be a poem of your own choosing or one you wrote.
  • Children’s poems are particularly wonderful for this.
  • “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll is a particularly fun poem to practice with.  

Exercise 3: Tongue Twisters

  • Wonderful for practicing diction and vocal variation (such as rate and volume) 
  • Select a tongue twister from the link below. The longer ones such as Peter Piper, Betty Botter, and the Woodchuck work better.
  • Divide class into groups of three. Take turns being the speakers and conductors.
  • The first orator stands up and delivers the tongue twister. 
  • The same speaker then delivers the tongue twister again, but this time the to the conductor’s direction – the conductor can make them go faster or slower, louder or quieter.
  • Swap speakers and conductors and do it again until everyone has participated. 

Exercise 4: Reading the Phone Book

  • Wonderful for practicing vocal variation
  • This is a fun solo exercise!  Content neutral!
  • You’ll need a telephone book and a list of commonly known styles for people to imitate.
  • Suggestions for styles: preacher, rap star, president, disc jokey, news reader, sports commentator, expert witness, attorney doing a cross, attorney doing a direct, attorney giving an opening statement, expert witness, victim of a crime who is very emotional
  • Or you could go for emotional states: bored, happy, sad, enthusiastic, wary, angry, shy, snide, loving …
  • Stand each person up in turn, flip open the telephone book and whatever they find they are to read in the style nominated.
  • Have them read for approx. 30 seconds before handing it to the next person.
  • The key is exaggeration – the more embodied the state or style the better!

Exercise 5: Deliver an Excerpt from a Famous Speech

  • This takes a bit more time, and may or may not be memorized.  If the student already has one memorized let them use this.
  • Feel free to choose your own. Below are some links to famous speeches that could be used.

Exercise 6: Write an Oratorical Speech

(Allow one week from the time the assignment is given until the speech itself)

  • Pick any topic you want (politics, literature, science, dating, choosing a career, and so forth) and write a short 5 minute oratorical speech on that topic
  • If you have a prior speech you have written and want to re-write it that is ok.
  • The speech should have an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
  • Pay special attention to having a hook at the beginning, and using a least three different rhetorical devices in the body.
  • The conclusion reflects back to the introduction