This Book Helped Shape Frederick Douglass' Storytelling

“Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book”

– Frederick Douglass, 1845.

I recently came across an article about Frederick Douglass that stated how The Columbian Orator (digital version) was a highly influential book in his life. After combing through many of the excerpts, I can see how it shaped one of history’s greatest orators. The book was written and organized by Caleb Bingham and includes excepts from not only great speakers but also during a most important time in history.

In today’s world where keynote speaker after keynote speaker debate whether content or context is king (or emperor), The Columbian Orator is a classic, no-nonsense book on oration with excellent examples that include the context.

For example, here is tactical advice on placing emphasis on syllables when speaking:

“Perhaps nothing is of more importance to a speaker, than a proper attention to accent, emphasis, and cadence. Every word in our language, of more than one syllable, has, at least, one accented syllable. This syllable ought to be rightly known, and the word should be pronounced by the speaker in the same manner as he would pronounce it in ordinary conversation. By emphasis, we distinguish those words in a sentence which we esteem the most important, by laying a greater stress of voice upon them than we do upon the others. And it is surprising to observe how the sense of a phrase may be altered by varying the emphasis. The following example will serve as an illustration. This short question, “Will you ride to town to-day ?” may be understood in four different ways, and, consequently, may receive four different answers, according to the placing of the emphasis. If it be pronounced thus ; Will you ride to town to-day t :the answer may properly be, No ; I shall send my son. If thus ; Will you ride to town to-day ? Answer, No; I intend to walk. Will you ride to town to-day ? No ; I shall ride into the country. Will you ride to town to-day? No ; but 1, shall to-morrow.”

This is just a glimpse of the instruction around public speaking and oration — most of the book includes examples to practice.

If you’re looking to get better as a speaker and storyteller, check out the The Columbian Orator. It’s a great way to learn best practices of public speaking, while also diving deep into historical examples of eloquent speeches.

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