Every time I hear one of President Roosevelt’s speeches I am struck by the fact that he does little if anything to disguise his elite background. His speech is that of a man who has had a superb education, was schooled in eloquence, and has a vocabulary of a scholar. He thinks nothing of dropping four or five syllable words on an audience that probably has no idea what the words mean.
But the interesting thing about FDR is that people knew exactly what he meant. They didn’t have to know the words. They understood the passion and the integrity of his message. The profundity did not escape their incorporation of his words into their hearts and their minds.
It could be said that FDR was a demonstrator of peroration. His words and his thoughts were lofty and profound. There was nothing cheap or superficial about what he had to say. He was President during a very difficult time in the history of the country and the world. There was no time for chatty small-talk. Even his fireside chats were filledwith profound truths, advice and explanation. He was doing his best to demonstrate the transparency we hear about so much today. It was not about tricks or shortcuts. To the contrary, FDR used confidence, trust in the sincerity of the people, and intelligent discourse to achieve transparency. He spared no fiber of his being to let the people know of the dilemmas faced by this nation, and the certainty he had that they would be victorious in their attempts to succeed.
Everyone is not capable of accomplishing peroration without stumbling. In this age in which language is reduced to 140 characters with no regard for spelling or syntax, it is difficult to speak to the American people with such rhetoric without being criticized for being elitist or stuffy. President Obama is successful in his speeches when he is able to project his “good old boy” side of himself. President Clinton was the master of that. There was no attempt on Clinton’s part to sound intellectual or professorial. Obama is less successful, although he is constantly commended for his ability to move the people by his speeches. There are times when President Obama is criticized for being too professorial, but that has more to do with his content than his method of speaking. His depth of understanding a situation is often couched in lofty explanations that are too deep or too preachy.
Peroration is a word that comes from the Latin language and actually has to do with the conclusion of a speech. In formal speech instruction a professor would talk about summarizing the points you want someone to remember from your presentation. That is the defining of the peroration. However, as the word has evolved it has picked up some quality points, indicating that a speech is not only well-defined, but long.
Length of a speech, story, or sermon is not the quality of the presentation. However, I do remember a pastor of a small, conservative congregation telling me that he had been threatened by his Board of Elders that if he didn’t expand the length of his sermons he was going to be fired. They wanted a 45 minute minimum. Most mainline congregations would go in the opposite direction. Someone once said that if the preacher couldn’t say it in 12 minutes, (he) should throw away his plastic collar. Length may be called for at times, but peroration, in the sense of over-extended homilies does not necessarily achieve the quality of loftiness and sincerity that makes a presentation effective..
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