Comparative Analysis of Cicero’s Rhetoric and Patrick Winston’s Communication Techniques

The art of rhetoric and public speaking has evolved significantly over centuries, yet the foundational principles established by ancient orators like Cicero resonate even in contemporary discourse. This essay aims to juxtapose the rhetorical techniques of Cicero, a master orator of the Roman era, with the modern communication insights provided by Patrick Winston, a renowned professor and expert in artificial intelligence. By comparing their approaches, we can discern both the timeless nature of effective communication and the nuanced adaptations necessary in the modern era.


My Key Takeaways

What I took away was:

  1. It’s OK to bang on about a subject. This helps embed the information in the listener’s mind.
  2. It’s best to start formally, and if appropriate, insert humour later.
  3. It’s good to use personal anecdotes that help the audience bridge a gap to you.

Finally, I learned I need to reread Cicero!

Frameworks of Rhetoric and Communication

Cicero’s Five Canons vs. Winston’s Communication Formula

Cicero’s five canons (Inventio, Dispositio, Elocutio, Memoria, Pronuntiatio) provide a comprehensive framework for constructing and delivering speeches. They encompass content creation, organization, style, memory, and delivery. In contrast, Winston’s formula focuses on knowledge, practice, and minimizing the reliance on inherent talent. Both emphasize preparation, but Cicero’s approach is more structured, while Winston’s is more pragmatic, underscoring continuous improvement and practical knowledge.

Modes of Persuasion: Ethos, Pathos, Logos vs. Communication Skills

Cicero’s reliance on ethos (character), pathos (emotional appeal), and logos (logical argument) finds a modern counterpart in Winston’s emphasis on the ability to speak and write effectively. Cicero’s ethos aligns with Winston’s belief in the importance of credibility and integrity in communication. Pathos is reflected in Winston’s emphasis on engaging the audience, similar to Cicero’s use of emotional appeal. Logos and Winston’s focus on the quality of ideas both stress logical coherence and substantive content.

Adaptability and Audience Awareness

Cicero’s Adaptability vs. Winston’s Techniques for Speaking

Cicero advised altering speech style and content to suit different audiences, a principle mirrored in Winston’s recommendation to avoid jokes at the start and to make empowerment promises. Both understand the importance of audience analysis and tailoring the message accordingly. Cicero’s approach is more rhetorical, focusing on the orator’s flexibility, while Winston’s is more strategic, emphasizing the audience’s engagement from the beginning.

Delivery and Presentation Techniques

Cicero’s Pronuntiatio vs. Winston’s Presentation Methods

Cicero’s emphasis on delivery (Pronuntiatio) finds resonance in Winston’s advice on verbal punctuation and environment setup. Both stress the importance of effective delivery, including voice modulation and body language. However, Winston extends this to include modern considerations such as lighting and the use of technology (like slides), which were not a part of Cicero’s repertoire.

Use of Props and Visual Aids

While Cicero relied on the power of words and rhetorical devices, Winston advocated for the use of props and blackboards for interactive presentations. This difference highlights the evolution of communication tools from pure oratory to visual aids, a necessity in the age of digital technology and shorter attention spans.

Memory and Structure

Cicero’s Memoria vs. Winston’s Simplification in Slides

Cicero valued memorization, allowing for fluid and uninterrupted delivery. In contrast, Winston, in his focus on modern communication, emphasizes the simplification of slides as a tool to aid memory and understanding, both for the speaker and the audience. This difference reflects the shift from oral tradition to a more visual and text-oriented approach in modern presentations.

Engagement and Interaction

Humor and Audience Interaction

Cicero’s use of wit and humour is paralleled in Winston’s dynamic approach to speaking, where interaction with the audience is key. Both understand the role of engagement in effective communication, though their methods vary due to the different contexts and eras in which they communicate.


The comparison between Cicero and Patrick Winston reveals that while the core principles of effective communication remain constant, the methods and tools have evolved to adapt to changing contexts and audiences. Cicero’s comprehensive rhetorical framework provides a foundational understanding of oratory, focusing on the artistry of speech and the adaptability of the speaker. Winston’s approach, on the other hand, is more aligned with contemporary needs, emphasizing clarity, engagement, and the effective use of modern aids like technology and visual elements. Both perspectives offer invaluable insights into the art of communication, highlighting its timeless importance and its evolving nature in response to societal changes. In synthesizing the wisdom of the past with the innovations of the present, we find a comprehensive approach to effective speaking and persuasion that transcends eras.