As the author of Real Leader’s Don’t Do PowerPoint (Crown Business), I am not suggesting that future Presidents should use PowerPoint in their State of the Union Addresses (SOTUs). I cringe at the thought. But recent developments and trends make me think that it will happen sooner or later.
I make that prediction based on my belief that the dominant style of public speaking has dramatically changed over the last fifty or sixty years, becoming increasingly casual.
The Reign of Oratory
For the longest time (over two millennium) public discourse was ruled by oratory, a formal style of speaking marked by an elegance of expression, a concern with lofty ideals and topics of great import, and dramatic delivery.
Oratory was a mainstay in ancient Greece. Philosophers and statesmen alike studied and practiced it. Romans continued to refine it and define its rules.
In the United States oratory held sway through the 1960’s. There are many examples or an oratorical style of speaking, including but not limited to:
- John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address (1961)
- General Douglas MacArthur’s Address at West Point (1962)
- Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech (1963)
There are fewer examples of oratory to be found through the next two decades.
- Barbara Jordan’s Statement on the Articles of Impeachment (1974)
- Mario Cuomo’s speech at the Democratic National Convention (1984),
By the 1980’s oratory was already being replaced by a plainer, simpler style of speaking.