Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 182) – William Butler Yeats

William Butler Yeats on what it takes for a great speaker to convince the audience

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) Irish Poet

“I always think a great speaker convinces us not by force of reasoning, but because he is visibly enjoying the beliefs he wants us to accept.”

— William Butler Yeats


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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10 Responses to Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 182) – William Butler Yeats

  1. Zeba says:

    Hi there. I’m glad to see you thank Mr. yeats. I think all the great speakers were bad speakers at first, so I agree with you.

  2. john A. Miller says:

    I disagree with Mr. Yeats. The persona a speaker presents should only reflect the content
    of the speech. The minister who seems to be enjoying delivering a funeral oration
    would be as out of place as a stone faced speaker delivering a speech at a graduation

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, John, and thanks for challenging Yeats. As I said in the first post on Quotes for Public Speakers, the quotes would be presented without comment. People were encouraged to weigh in as to whether or not they agreed.

      As for the Yeats quote, in my view, it is, like so many things, neither white nor black. Depending on the audience, the occasion and the topic, a speaker who is “visibly enjoying” those beliefs might be entirely successful in convincing his audience. On the other hand, I can think of many situations where you are absolutely correct that it is the content that will (or will not) carry the day: a shareholders meeting; a scientific presentation to experts; an application for approval build a landfill; etc.

      You raise the example of a minister who seems to be enjoying a funeral oration. Even there, if the enjoyment comes from the wonderful and uplifting memories of the deceased, the speech can work. I have seen a few speeches at funerals where the speaker tried, successfully, to lift the congregation’s mood by creating a positive mood about the deceased’s life.

      Thanks again for starting the conversation.


      • John Miller says:

        Hi, John, The speech where the police officer is obviously enjoying giving you a ticket for exceeding the speed limit by 5 MPH is sure to rankle.

        My interest at the moment is rhetoric. Rhetoric has a bad reputation. How often do you hear “Oh, that’s just rhetoric!” I am working to get Toastmasters more interested in the subject, in our speeches, in our evaluations. What better way of improving our own speeches and our evaluations of others’ speeches?

        On page 28 in Heracles’ Bow, the author, James Boyd White writes, “[Rhetoric] should be seem not as a failed science nor as an ignoble art of persuasion (as it often is) but as the central art by which culture and community are established, maintained, and transformed.”

        I wear a British Friendship Pin, crossed British and American flags, in recognition of, and appreciation for, Shakespeare’s contributions to our culture and our national consciousness. Countless of our citizens learned their rhetorical constructions (if not the technical terminology) from their study of Shakespeare.

        I’d appreciate your thoughts.


        John A. Miller Washington, DC

        • John Zimmer says:

          Hi John,

          Point taken on the police officer example, especially when he doesn’t open up the floor for questions!

          I am with you on the importance of rhetoric. I am a big believer in it. In fact, I just finished a great book on rhetorical devices and wrote this review about it. You should check it out. And yes, Toastmasters should do more on the use of rhetoric. I am a big supporter of Toastmasters but the analysis of our speeches doesn’t always go as deep as it should in my opinion. Mastering some of the basic rhetorical devices can significantly enhance the quality of one’s speeches.

          Thanks for keeping the conversation going.


  3. Ernest Chen says:

    Wonderful share of the quote! Though short, this concise quote can be of great value when one is in need of some motivation and inspiration to overcome his or her phobia in public speaking.

    Thank you for your great share!

  4. Amen! The moment the audience percieves we are trying to forcefully feed them our message, that’s when we lose them.

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