The Canons of Rhetoric in Public Speaking

The canons of rhetoric in public speaking were originally developed by the great philosopher, Aristotle to help deliver effective messages or information. We could recall from the last session on public speaking about the persuasive appeals of Aristotle. Those were the various ways a public speaker could deploy into his or her public speaking profession. They were the ethos, logos, and pathos. (You can refer to the previous lesson on public speaking). The canons of rhetoric unlike persuasive appeals, help a public speaker to develop an effective message that would be able to inform and persuade the listeners or audiences.

The Canons of Rhetoric by Cicero

The Canons of Rhetoric in Public Speaking
The Canons of Rhetoric in Public Speaking by

Cicero was a renowned roman philosopher just like Aristotle. Aristotle developed the canons but Cicero was the one who specialized these canons into five stages. The canons of rhetoric are also known as the tenets of rhetoric.

These canons involved the five special stages or methods applicable in creating a perfect speech or message to be delivered. Below are the five canons of Rhetoric as developed by Cicero.


The invention as defined by the Oxford Learners Dictionary is the act of creating something. Computers came about as a result of invention. This piece you are reading now came about as a result of invention from the writer. This is the first canon of rhetoric. It is the first stage every public speaker must go through; This is where the message to be delivered is created. It is the process of discovering, developing, and structuring the ideas of your message.

It becomes the first canon since the speaker gets to know what he or she is to argue about. The speaker must gather all pieces of evidence and claims to support all the arguments in his or her message. A financial minister who is delivering the state of a nation’s address had gathered all the facts and any information that would aid him or her to deliver that speech successfully.

Processes Involved in Invention

There are four main processes involved in the invention stage of preparing a speech or message;

Determination of the communication aim of the message or speech

This is where a speaker can identify the aim of the speech he or she is to deliver. When you know the purpose of your speech, you are easily through in getting enough facts to support your agreement.

Analyzation of the listeners

The audience or listeners are the main reasons you are seen as a speaker at the such moment; you need to consider them. Why must you consider your audience? Some terms may not be familiar to your audience though it aids in the perfection of your speech you must omit them because of the nature of the audience. Consider elders, children, parents, race, and students. etc. before you prepare a speech.

Seek information and facts from sources accessible to you

People are easily persuaded by facts and scientific processes as we saw in the persuasive appeals of logos. You must search thoroughly and get all the shreds of evidence that can help you deliver a factual message to your audience.

Speech editing

The Canons of Rhetoric in Public Speaking
The Canons of Rhetoric in Public Speaking – speech editing by

The final stage of the invention stage is speech editing. You have been able to determine the aim of your message, succeeded in analyzing the audience, successfully gathered all facts and evidence and since your speech is already decorated, you only edit it for accuracy at this level. There might be grammatical errors and other mistakes and this level is where all those mistakes are corrected.


The second stage of the five canons of rhetoric is the arrangement. You have been able to develop an effective speech from the invention stage, now how are you supposed present it? Do you start just like that or you must deliver accordingly?

These three important arrangement rules to consider when arranging a speech. The introduction comes first, followed by the body of the message, and finally the conclusion of the whole message.

The introduction is where you introduce your audience to the purpose of your speech. It contains the thesis and every window or door leading to the main message.

The main body is where you provide all your facts and shreds of evidence to support your arguments. The main aim of the speech is much achieved at the body stage.

The conclusion involves the summary of everything you have talked about and most importantly what you want your listeners to take home from the speech or, the message you have delivered.


The next canon of rhetoric is the style also known as the elocution stage. This stage implies how you must present your speech. Must you include proverbs? Must you include figures of speech and any figurative language?

There are five virtues of style every public speaker must take note of;


Correctness here deals with the rules of the language one uses in delivering or creating a speech. Whatever you include in a speech is what you deliver. Grammar is highly considered at this point since your speech must be in the correct format. The words must be used correctly without any grammatical errors.


Correctness eventually leads to clarity. When you have done your corrections well, the clarity of your speech is assured. The choice of words should be simple and clear so that your audience can grab all the arguments you make.


A speaker must provide all the necessary facts through a vivid description.


This virtue states that the words you use must support the aim of the information you deliver. You must say the right thing at the right time and in the right place.


No one wants a boring speech; a speaker must make his or her speech so interesting by including acceptable figures of speech and rhythmic sentences. It should not be excessive.


The fourth stage in the canons of rhetoric is memory. A speaker must be able to memorize some part of the speech he or she must deliver. You are not supposed to be reading from the script always but there should be some kind of eye contact with the audience as well. There are several devices today that can be used in place of memory. The main motive of memory is that “don’t read from the script always”. Some of the devices that aid in achieving this purpose are the teleprompter and projector.


The Canons of Rhetoric in Public Speaking
The Canons of Rhetoric in Public Speaking by

The last and most important canon in the five canons of rhetoric is the delivery stage. You are not fully a public speaker when you can create an effective speech but fail to deliver it most appropriately. This canon would be fully treated properly under speech in our subsequent topics.

These five canons are most important in ensuring effective communication between a public speaker and the audience.

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