The rise of the woman orator

As I prepare myself for the speaking world, my speaker coach yesterday asked me a simple question: who do you consider the greatest orators?

I rattled off a number of them, such as the obvious J.F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King — the usual suspects — and a number of others. Then I realized my list comprised entirely of men.

So, I had to do more digging.

Margaret Thatcher popped into my mind — and then Hilary Clinton, who gives rousing speeches.

And then I struggled to find more. But why were they not coming to mind?

There are plenty of examples of women who have given famous speeches. There are also loads of examples of wonderful, competent and inspiring women speakers all over the world. I have worked with or interviewed some of them. But what about women who have powerfully moved a nation through their charisma and spoken word?

Not many. Certainly not as orators.

For instance, Oprah has had an undeniable enormous impact around the world through her journalism and interviewing skills, but I would not consider her an orator.

Queen Elizabeth II is a highly skilled speech reader, but she does not necessarily inspire.

Princess Diana gave powerful speeches in her quest to rid the world of landmines, but I don’t think she was of the orator caliber either. But if you read one of her speeches on the subject, the passion is undeniable.

For centuries, until more recently, women have been silenced and kept in the background, while the world valued male attributes, power and rhetoric. In many nations, boys were the ones who received education, while girls played domestic roles. So there was not much opportunity for women to speak, let alone master the art.

However, we are not silenced and hidden any longer. At least, not in developed nations.

So who are some of the other women who have powerfully used the “word” to move the masses?

One of the most powerful speeches on record given by a woman, in my opinion, was England’s most famous flaming red-head, Queen Elizabeth I, on the Spanish Armada. It was her “battle cry.” She had it in her heart to motivate her troops as they faced war. The genuine emotion of this speech is palpable:

My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear; I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even the dust. I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too; and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms: to which, rather than any dishonor should grow by me, I myself will take up arms; I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, by your forwardness, that you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble and worthy subject; not doubting by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and by your valor in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over the enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Queen Elizabeth I – 1588

There is much to learn from this speech. The key to being a great orator is tucked in between words, sentences and phrases. I am not aware if the Queen Elizabeth I actually wrote this speech herself or if it was written for her, but my sense is she had a hand in it.

Granted when you rule a nation, you must master the craft of the spoken word that mobilizes. More women then ever are ruling nations, like Argentina. So perhaps we will see a rise of the “great woman orator.”

In my research, I stumbled upon this terrific blog, The Eloquent Woman, that is a great resource for women speakers and famous women speeches. If you are a woman speaker, check it out.

I personally feel it is time for the rise of the great woman orator. It is time for a woman to move the masses with her charisma and the power of the spoken word. We need more women orators.

Is that you?

Thank you, Judy Suke, for asking me the important question in the first place, which has put me on a new quest.

To my readers: Who do you think are the greatest women orators, past or present?


© Shannon Skinner 2012