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What Is Delivery?

Whilst the canon of style focusses on the words you choose for your speech, the canon of delivery concentrates on how you say those words and how you convey your message. This is a very broad topic, with delivery covering everything from tailoring your delivery to your audience, tone, pitch, tempo, body language, hand gestures, talking clearly, and making eye contact. If you would like to go into this subject in detail, Quintilian covers this subject in detail here.

One of the reasons that delivery matters is that it is important that the words on the page translate into a persuasive message for your audience. Delivery is therefore inextricably linked to your personal credibility and effectiveness as an advocate. Done well, you will persuade your audience and win your case. Done badly, you will lose your audience and fail to persuade the merits of your case to the judge and the jury. So delivery is a fundamental skill of an advocate. If you mumble so people can’t hear you, or you patronise the jury with your tone, or you are discourteous to the judge, then no matter how good your legal arguments are, you are unlikely to persuade as effectively as someone who speaks clearly, courteously and convincingly to the judge and jury. Delivery is therefore a fundamental part of ethos.

Delivery can also help an orator use pathos, or emotion, to persuade. A well placed pause or a slammed fist can elicit a desired emotion from your audience in order to make your point. However, an advocate should never lose their temper or express their displeasure in an uncontrolled way; public displays of emotion should be a controlled choice, and mirror the emotions of the jury, rather than the personal grumpiness of the advocate.

 Historically, the canon of delivery was held in very high regard. The ancient Greeks believed that an orator is a “good man speaking well” so being a good person was inextricably bound into the power of eloquence and the ability to deliver a speech well. Within the legal profession, and the Bar in particular, this idea carried a huge amount of weight and the pervasiveness of this ideal carried through into Bar training until relatively recently. For example, in the book “The Advocate – his training, practice, rights and duties [1852] the author Edward Cox, who was tasked with re-writing the training standards of the Bar at that time, had this to say regarding moral training:

 “Foremost we place the MORAL TRAINING of the Advocate, because foremost in importance to the successful discharge of an advocates duties is the development of a mind conscious of integrity; and, next to that, REPUTATION. Wanting either, the Advocates intellect will be shorn of half its influence.

Let the aspirant barrister set up in their own mind the ideal of a good person, to which they should ever strive to approach nearer and nearer, remembering always that the loftiest courage and the grandest eloquence proceed from a profound consciousness of rectitude of purpose, and that the confidence of others can only be secured, and their emotions awakened, by the reality of sincerity and feeling in the advocate.”

 Eloquence in delivery takes practise. One of the great orators of all time, Demosthenes would recite his speeches whilst he was out for a run. To strengthen his voice so he could be heard clearly in the Greek Assembly, he’d stand on the seashore and deliver his speech over the roar of the waves. All this work paid off, as Demosthenes went down in history as one of the greatest orators of ancient Greece. Demosthenes inspired John Philpot Curran, who also went on to become one of the great orators of all time. Yet when Curran started out, he had a bad stutter, and the first time he got to his feet he died completely and was unable to say a word. Anyone less likely to become one of the great orators of all time is hard to imagine. But he did. Curran is the perfect example of what a person can do armed with a knowledge of classical legal rhetoric, and the drive and commitment to practice these delivery techniques until you become really good.

However, in a modern context obvious rhetorical flourishes in terms of delivery are often viewed with suspicion by the audience. This distrust of certain types of rhetorical delivery was born in the aftermath of WWII; people felt ashamed that they had fallen under the spell of dictators who were great orators but had malicious agendas. As a result, nowadays a more down to earth style is preferred by the general population, although this will obviously vary depending on your audience and the circumstances surrounding your case.

Courts are formal places, so finding the right tone for your audience given the overall circumstances of your case, will vary on a case by case basis. One technique you can use is to find out to the best of your ability the overall demographics and cultural background of your audience. What does your audience fear and will they be more responsive to your message if you address those fears head on? If you are acting in a terrorism case, dealing with the fear associated with the word “terrorism” may be necessary if you want to settle the jury and get them thinking about the evidence objectively. What are their desires? What are their needs? This information will help you decide if you should use a more sophisticated and polished delivery or if you should go with a more informal approach.

Hints and tips for improving your rhetorical delivery

Master the power of the pause.

 Newly qualified advocates are often so nervous that they try and rush through their speeches as quickly as possible. However, doing so they miss out on employing one of the most powerful oratorical techniques–the pause. A pause is powerful-it can add a bit of dramatic flair to a statement or it can help the audience really drink up an idea. The key with a pause is timing, and length; generally the longer the pause the more powerfully it comes across. QC’s will often use this technique to great effect – leaving an evasive witness who doesn’t want to answer a question stewing in their own juice for eternal minutes. However, the power of the pause should only be used when it will be effective and bring your message home. It can also be used as a way of getting a judge or jury’s attention. “My Lord”(pause) is a way to subtly get a judge and jury to pay attention, as people tend to pause before saying something important. Listen to when you use pauses in your speech and practice inserting pauses in your speech to find what works.

Body language

Watch your body language and the body language of the judge and jury.

 As any actor will tell you there is a direct link between your emotions and your body language. This means, when you’re speaking, your voice isn’t the only thing talking, your whole body is communicating. Your posture, head tilt, and the way you stand up in court all convey a message, and it’s worth spending some time learning your own body language and also learning to understand the body language of others. Body language is a crucial tool in the armoury of the advocate. Keith Evans, in his book “The Language of Advocacy” describes his shock when he realised that 60% of all communication is done through body language, 30% through tone, and only 10% through words.

As he says “Advocacy is the process of sending messages that people are going to want to listen to, remember, agree with – and act upon.”

Body language is a key part of that so it is worth identifying what messages you are sending to the judge and the jury, and also learn how to read the messages the judge and the jury are sending you. Many barristers have taken acting classes to learn how actors use the power of body language to convey key impressions and also to help them with voice control, although thanks to COVID those aren't really running at the moment. However, there are several good books on body language available to get you started, including 

The Dictonary of Body Language by Joe Navarro

What every body is saying - Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins

 as well as others, so some of those may be worth getting.

 Vary your tone.

 If you have ever heard someone speak for any length of time in a flat monotone you will know that nothing sends an audience off to sleep quicker than someone who never varies their tone. This means that to keep your audience engaged you should vary your vocal inflections, and use changes in your tone to reveal that you’re asking a question, being sarcastic, or conveying excitement. You might even exaggerate your inflections when delivering a public speech as many people have a tendency to get timid in front of an audience.

Vary your speed

 Try to match your speed with the emotion you want to convey. In A Natural System of Elocution and Oratory (p533-534), the author gives six different speech speeds and the corresponding emotions they’re meant to elicit.

Rapid speech:                haste, alarm, confusion, anger, vexation, fear, revenge, and extreme terror.

Quick or brisk speech: joy, hope, playfulness, and humour.

Moderate speech:         good for narration, descriptions, and teaching.

Slow speech:                   gloom, sorrow, melancholy, grief, pity, admiration, reverence, dignity, authority, awe, power, and majesty.

Very slow:                        used to express the strongest and deepest emotions.

Vary the force of your voice

 Force is the strength and weakness of voice. To speak with force does not mean to shout. By varying the force of your voice you can express different emotions; from the powerful emotions such as anger and fear to the more gentle emotions of meekness and humility. Varying the force of your voice is how you achieve that, and can also help draw your listeners into your speech. For example, by speaking softly, your audience has to work a bit more to hear you. It’s almost like you’re telling a secret to your audience which is a great way to emphasis a point you’re making and to connect with your listeners. Like all tactics, this must be used sparingly…don’t make the audience strain to hear your whole speech, although there may be times when this is an appropriate tactic to use.

One point to bear in mind is instinctively people will tend to match the force that they are being spoken to, which is why when one person starts shouting someone will start shouting in response. Advocates cannot act this way in court, particularly towards people they are cross examining, so in this situation it is really important that you talk in a calm, courteous manner, rather than losing your temper. In this situation, the advocate is letting the fact that people instinctively match the force that they are being spoken to work in their favour, as people feel stupid shouting and losing their temper if the other person is remaining calm, so will tend to calm down in response.


Let gestures flow naturally. If used effectively, hand gestures can give added emphasis to your words. A good idea is present your speech in a full length mirror – you will then see what gestures you make when you are talking, and whether or not they are distracting. If they are, adjust accordingly, but don’t obsess about it; they’re part of what makes you unique as a speaker.

Don’t mumble – talk clearly!

Practise enunciating your words clearly, as this will make you easier to understand. This is particularly important if you have a tendency to mumble and slur your words. You can’t be persuasive if no one can hear what you are saying, so it is fundamentally important that people can hear you clearly. Some advocates train with a voice coach, to iron out any issues with their voice and to learn how to use their voice well, and the reading list for the BPTC includes links to several books on training your voice.

 Another good trick is to speak more slowly – inexperienced public speakers tend to gallop through their speeches as quickly as they can to get it over with as quickly as possible, and as a result they often run their words together so can be difficult to follow. If you consciously slow down the speed of your words, you will have more time to pronounce them clearly, and it will also give you the impression of being more confident. Practising tongue twisters helps with enunciation, too.

 Maintain eye contact with the person you are addressing.

Look your audience in the eye. When you look people in the eye, you make a connection. This is particularly important when cross examining a witness. David Paul Brown who was a member of the Boston Bar published "A Forum" in 1856 and identified nine Golden Rules for the examination of witnesses. The first of these rules states:

“Except in indifferent matters, never take your eye from that of the witness; there is a channel of communication from mind to mind, the loss of which nothing can compensate.”

Therefore, if you are an advocate, then maintaining eye contact matters, particularly with your witnesses but also with the judge and jury.

As you go through your speech, work your way across the room making eye contact with several different people in the courtroom. You’ll get a strong connection with those people you look in the eye, but you’ll also give everyone else a chance to look you in the face which can help build a connection. Maintain contact for a few seconds. If it’s too short, you’ll seem nervous and shifty. If you look too long, you’ll start creeping people out.

Useful further resources on how to deliver speeches effectively

One of the big differences between how advocacy was taught previously, and how it is taught now, is that back in the day "Declamation" was taught, often in incredible detail, which would include what tone to use in different parts of your speech, what gestures to use, when and why you should use them, how gestures should interact with language, what to do with your hands, face, shoulders and feet, and even more besides. Most of what was taught regarding speech delivery, sat within a long tradition, often going back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Bizzarely, there are no modern books that I can easily find on how to deliver a speech if you just starting out as a barrister, or still learning your craft. However, I did find one book that aimed to teach barristers how to deliver their speeches. It is called "Hints for Public Speakers - intended for young barristers and students of law", and was written by T Knox in 1797. It is a rather sweet, and quietly useful little book if you are starting out. The copy I found at the British Library was quite hard to read so I copied it out using modern fonts, so it is now easily readable, and you can find that copy here. It is short (30 pages) but for a short book it covers a lot of content.  If you are interested in legal history it is also worth a read as there are quite a few descriptions of Erskine's speeches in the book, so this is probably the closest thing we have to a description of Erskine at work.

If you would like to learn more about speech delivery, and how to do it, the following books may prove useful. 

Hints for Public Speakers - intended for young barristers and students of law, by T Knox (1797)

A natural system of elocution and oratory by Thomas Hyde and William Hyde (1886) - freely available for download at

A treatise on rhetorical delivery by Gilbert Austin - freely available for download at

The Orator's Touchstone - or Eloquence Simplified by Hugh MacQueen   - freely available as a Google book, courtesy of the British Library


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