As a young man, Demosthenes worked to improve his speech by shouting to be heard over waves crashing along a rocky seashore. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Eugène Delacroix

The fear of public speaking is so common, we fear it more than spiders, heights or even death, according to US-based National Institute of Mental Health.

Click start to play today’s Spell It, which inspires us to share “tactics” used by orators in history.

While speaking to a crowd has most people shaking in their boots, there are others who simply thrive on the podium. History has made note of great orators, who commanded entire masses through the power of their speech. According to the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero, great speeches comprise three essentials: techniques, substance, and passion.

One orator, who successfully managed to master all three aspects, was Demosthenes.

Considered to be the greatest orator in ancient Greece, Demosthenes’ speeches have been studied by students of rhetoric for generations. He became an orator very early in life because of an unusual reason – he wanted to take his legal guardians to court, since they had badly mismanaged his father’s wealth after his death. In today’s value, that fortune would have been equivalent to $11 million (Dh40 million).

But his path to success wasn’t easy. Demosthenes wasn’t a natural speaker – he lacked confidence, had stage fright, and had a lisp so he couldn’t pronounce ‘l’ and ‘r’ correctly. As a young man, he worked to improve his speech by shouting to be heard over waves crashing along a rocky seashore.

Sometimes, he resorted to desperate measures. He would put pebbles in his mouth and recite his speeches, in an effort to open it wide and loosen his tongue. He would run up the hills and down into the valleys, speaking or singing, all the while trying to maintain a steady breathing pattern. He would also speak for hours, repeating his speeches over and over so the words would flow from his tongue without a hitch.

At age 18, he stood in front of the court and successfully sued his legal guardians. He won the lawsuit, but was unable to get his inheritance back because of loopholes in the system. However, Demosthenes’ hard work helped him become a proficient lawyer, orator, and then a respected statesman in Greece.

About 61 of his speeches have survived and show how a speaker could use plain language and lucid arguments to devastating effect. Demosthenes was a master of metaphor, but he never overused it, and his speeches were known for their convincing sincerity.

How do you prepare, when you have to present in front of a crowd? Play today’s Spell It and let us know at