Monday, October 22, 2007

what it means to be eloquent

Puzzling out what it means to be eloquent means fitting together and pulling apart many pieces. The American Heritage Dictionary definition divides eloquence in two parts: "persuasive, powerful discourse" or a speech or look that's "vividly or movingly expressive." Roget's Thesaurus gives us three more takes: "exceedingly dignified," "fluently persuasive and forceful," and "effectively conveying meaning, feeling or mood."

So the books suggest there's more than language to it--while fluent's required, the speaker must persuade or convey meaning effectively. Power's involved, to move the audience or create a vivid picture for them. And feeling's suggested, on the part of both audience and speaker. In our discussion on LinkedIn asking for examples of eloquent woman and the qualities that make them so, respondents noted the following qualities:
- Authenticity, exemplified by Doris Kearns Goodwin. "She completely captured her audience, despite the fact that she read from notes, spoke fairly quickly and in a quiet voice...because she knew exactly what she wanted to say, had an interesting topic, and knew how to be herself in that venue." Another respondent agreed: "[she]doesn't seem dynamic; actually, reads from notes and too fast at times. But the cumulative effect is emotional and inspiring, and in the end she gets standing ovations. That's magic."

- Passion with precision, exemplified by Claire Fraser Liggett, former head of The Institute of Genomic Research, now at the University of Maryland. A respondent said she is "most passionate about the importance of research and genomics to human health...especially for the poorest nations. She conveyed in a most clear and compelling manner the complexities of microbial genomics and what it potentially means to society."

- Fast on your feet, with wit, exemplified by Margaret Thatcher. Our respondent said: "Eloquence is contrived in a pre-written, rehearsed speech. I think the best example is someone who can be convincing, witty, and concise on the fly...[in Parliament Question Time] I never saw anything as awesome and amusing as The Iron Lady convincingly responding to direct attacks on her policies and her character with precision, wit, and clarity."
What do you think it means to be eloquent? Join the discussion here!

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