The Public Speaker
( Originally Published 1912 )
A MAN constantly makes short speeches in his daily conversation. The habits formed here will largely influence and determine his public-speaking style. This offers one of the best opportunities for cultivating accuracy of statement, plain dealing, and rugged common sense. If he would argue and win upon great public occasions, he should heed these daily opportunities for small conquests.
Audiences are becoming more and more exacting. If a speaker makes a good point they see it at once, and if he doesn't make a good point they see that. They not only hear his tones and words, but closely follow the working of his mind,, observe how he puts link to link in the chain of his argument, and suspend their judgment until he claims it by force of his appeal and personality.
Most public speeches are too long. There is a surplusage of words and a shortage of thoughts. "Why do you seldom preach a short sermon?" a clergyman was asked. "Because," said he, "I haven't time to prepare one. A short, pointed, worth-while speech requires more preparation and research than a long one. Almost any man can stand up and talk, but few are capable of expressing their thoughts in succinct and cohesive English. One of the best arguments for a cause is reasonable brevity. A subject may easily be ruined by too much language and over-amplification.
The public speaker should first be sure he has something worth while to say, and that he is reasonably certain of the correctness of his judgments. There is much idle, rambling, careless speech heard on every side, just as there was in Cardinal Newman's time when he said :
"What is more common than the sight of grown men, talking on political or moral or religious subjects, in that off hand, idle way which we signify by the word unreal? `That they simply do not know what they are talking about' is the spontaneous silent remark of any man of sense who hears them. Hence such per-sons have no difficulty in contradicting themselves in. successive sentences, with-out being conscious of it. Hence others, whose defect in intellectual training is more latent, have their most unfortunate crotchets, as they are called, or hobbies, which deprive them of the influence which their estimable qualities would otherwise secure. Hence others can never look straight before them, never see the point, and have no difficulties in the most difficult subjects. Others are hopelessly obstinate and prejudiced, and, after they have been driven from their opinions, return - to them the next moment without even an attempt to explain why. Others are so intemperate and intractable that there is no greater calamity for a good cause than that they should get hold of it.''
Whether the student intends to present his arguments in public, in business, or elsewhere, he should give special heed to the natural order in which they first arise in his mind. He should, indeed, seize this arrangement and commit it to paper. He may subsequently review it carefully and make such changes as may be deemed desirable, but the natural order mentioned is of primary importance.
There is a climactic, as well as a logical, order in thought. The proper use of this element will greatly stimulate the interest of an audience. The series should usually be in an ascending scale, with the strongest argument reserved until near the close. Spencer illustrates the danger of anti-climax in these words : "Immediately after looking at the sun we can not perceive the light of a fire.
While by looking at the fire first and the sun afterward we can perceive both, so, after receiving - a brilliant, or weighty, or terrible thought, we can not appreciate a less brilliant, less weighty, or less terrible one, while, by reversing the order, we can appreciate each."
Extempore speaking is recommended as the best style for enforcing one's thought with power and effectiveness. It is more real than a speech that is read, and it is in favor with audiences. It allows the speaker to observe the effect of his ideas and arguments upon his hearers, and to alter, amplify, or repeat as he thinks best. This style enables a speaker to deliver himself with greater spontaneity and energy than would be possible if a manuscript intervened between him and his hearers. He has here the advantage of eye-to-eye communication with his audience, and can strengthen that which appears to him weak, and drive home with the most direct and positive force an idea that may be dangling in the air. The speaker should possess himself of a large fund of common sense, which Bautain urges in these words :
"Good sense is the instinctive action of right reason, discriminating with a rapidity of feeling, and by -a sort of taste, what is or is not suitable in any given situation. Therefore, it is a sudden appreciation of a thousand bearings de-pending on circumstances, as when, amidst the fervor of delivery and from the general effect of the address—things not to be estimated by the plan alone, but declaring themselves on the instant—an idea on which stress should be laid—what part of it should be neglected—what should be comprest—what should be enlarged upon —must all be promptly seized. Then a new thought which suggests itself and must be introduced—an explanation which might run to too great a length and which must be abridged—an emotion or effect to be excited as you pass on with out losing sight of the main effect—a digression into which you may enter without breaking the guiding thread of this labyrinth and while at need recovering it-all have to be judged of, decided upon, and executed at the very moment itself, and during the unsuspended progress of the discourse."
The mind of the public speaker should not only be enriched and developed by wide reading, but he should train it to hold ideas clearly and logically. He must know how to state a question correctly and boldly, and to present his ideas in their proper sequence. A study of logic will teach him how to become a clear thinker. Study and practise in public speaking will train him to "think on his feet."
Every subject has two sides. The business of the public speaker is to know both. This enables him to look at the subject in a larger view, to anticipate the arguments of an adversary, and to detect any weakness in his own. He will not then so readily be taken unawares, since "forewarned is forearmed.''
Many a man feels a sense of personal insecurity in expressing his thought, for the simple reason that he has not been thorough enough in his investigation. It will not do to take for granted what other people say; we must put everything through our own mental processes in order that we may come to conclusions that will bear the test of contradiction. In his thought gathering, therefore, a man should always look for clearness and accuracy, demanding proof before he yields his judgment to another.
Next to reading the great thoughts of the, world's masterpieces of prose and poetry, nothing is more valuable for the public speaker than the habit of committing choice extracts to memory and re-citing them aloud at convenient moments. If this can be done in the open air, while walking in the woods, or Demostheneslike on the seashore, in communion with nature, the results will be all the more rapid and substantial. It is surprising how these little extracts committed to memory will sometimes come to the speaker's aid at a critical moment, as well as serve to embellish some part of an extempore speech. The night before an important session of Parliament, John Bright would read Milton for an hour or two, that he might catch something of his majesty of style.
Few speakers know how to conclude either their argument or their speech. Their thoughts fly in the air like so many fluttering ribbons, and for their life they do not know how to gather them together into a Gordian knot. Every student of this subject is advised to fix upon his destination in advance, just as one would do in making a journey. Then he will not be so likely to lose his way, and what is quite as important, to misdirect others.
Loud emphasis and fiery declamation are not arguments. Men want the facts, and they want to consider them largely in their own way.
The greatest gift a speaker can possess is not so much that of eloquence as the power of statement. Some men are naturally lucid. Without apparent effort, they make their meaning clear at once. There is no hesitation, no apology, no ambiguity, but simple, compact common sense. These men habitually think and reason clearly, and can not help doing so in their speech.
If a man without the necessary knowledge undertakes to address an audience, he merely proclaims his own folly. It will not do to make a pretense of having the facts, for an audience quickly estimates a man at his true worth. The speaker's first object, therefore, should be to acquire a minute and thorough knowledge of his subject. As every question has two sides, he should give particular attention to any points in doubt.
He should next concern himself with the two questions : How best to recommend himself to others; and how to influence an audience to his way of thinking.
Personal character has always been regarded as an important factor in the making of an orator. If he be known as a reliable and substantial man, with sdund ideas, and of sterling uprightness of con-duct, this will act to his great advantage. A spirit of fair-mindedness, and a reputation for promoting the public welfare, will ingratiate a speaker in the hearts of the people.
But integrity and eloquence are not in themselves sufficient to win a great cause. The speaker must be capable of close and severe reasoning, and of skilfully putting link to link in a long chain of argument. He must conduct the hearer in the direction of his natural bent, but if he is to impress him with a sense of completeness, he must carry him beyond that. We yield ourselves readily to a man of superior knowledge, and it is only in this way that a speaker can hope to move the multitude.
The author of a little book on public speaking, published many years ago, makes an interesting distinction between eloquence and oratory. "Eloquence," he says, "belongs merely to words, oratory to the passion which fires them. The eloquence of intellect is that of speech, and sense, and symbol; but the oratory which so seldom "greets the ears of men is the eloquence of the man. The philosopher only reaches the scholar, the orator reaches the mob., The philosopher talks the rhetoric of the schools, the orator the language of nature ; he speaks heart words —that language which is wide as the world, which reaches humanity, which all nations understand, which the deaf and dumb can feel—the language of gratitude, of gesture—that which moves as on can-vas, breathes on marble . . It is when the multitude are of one opinion that the orator's power is revealed; that is the seal that nature stamps upon his genius.''
The student of argumentative speech should write much. Nothing is more conducive to clear and accurate reasoning than the habit of committing one's thoughts to paper. This puts them into concrete form, where they can be leisurely examined. If a link be missing it can be supplied, or if it be weak it can be strengthened. All the great orators of the world have been prodigious writers. To this habit they ascribed much of their skill as clear and precise thinkers. Thought is reined in by the use of the pen, since the hand can not move as rapidly as the mind. And just as thought be-comes steady, so it becomes more stable and sure.
This habit of writing also gives a speaker style and amplitude, enabling him to express his thoughts clearly, attractively, and with due effectiveness. Should the student wish to know how simple the style of a great orator can be, let him examine the oration of Demosthenes "On the Crown," the greatest oration of all time. Cicero says that an orator should have "the acuteness of the logicians, the wisdom of the philosophers, the language almost of poetry, the memory of lawyers, the voice of tragedians, and almost the gesture of the best actors." He names three requisites for finding the lines of an argument : genius, method, and diligence. But of the three, diligence is the most important, since it is by means of that we thoroughly prepare a subject. In the one word diligence may be included the other virtues of attention, care, consideration, vigilance, assiduity, and industry.
What is the distinguishing mark of a superior mind? It is not originality necessarily, but method, by which thoughts are arranged in regular order, and distinctness of mental vision precedes clearness of expression. A mind that is governed by method knows howto classify its material, how to carry a long chain of intricate reasoning, and how to see its way clear through to the end of an argument. Emerson speaks of this power of method as constituting "the genius and efficacy of all remarkable men."
Public speaking is really a form of debate, in which the audience tho silent is none the less critical and combative. Every idea, statement, and argument of the speaker is condemned or approved almost upon the instant, and it is only when the truth is presented clearly and effectively that an audience can be won over to a favorable verdict. The speaker can not too strongly be urged, therefore, to train his mind to methodical thinking, to keep his mental data classified, and habitually to organize his thoughts in the most formidable order.
The mind must be disciplined to do its work spontaneously. The student must content himself with taking a single thought at a time, mastering it, and proceeding patiently to the next, knowing that these definite and deliberate steps are necessary for ultimate excellence. If he takes only a small part at a time, he can ultimately grasp the most difficult and complex problems.
Effectiveness in delivery involves many considerations. A speaker should have a keen sense of proportion. Just as there is a limit to a man's lifting power, so is an audience limited in its power of attention and receptivity. A long introduction or conclusion may easily rob the main part of a speech of its significance. A prime requisite for effective speaking, therefore, is to get promptly to one's subject and as promptly to conclude it. The speaker should address himself to what he knows, and ever bear in mind that it is often one single proof, properly enforced, that determines success or failure. He should say only what is necessary and willingly condense his remarks, or omit them entirely, if the occasion demands this course. Great praise has been accorded to the intellectual character of the Duke of Wellington, who displayed in his speeches the same splendid qualities of simplicity and directness so manifest in his military life. "He strips his subject," says a commentator, "of all extraneous and unnecessary adjuncts, and exposes it in its natural proportions. He scents a fallacy afar off, and hunts it down at once without mercy. He has certain constitutional principles which are to him real standards. He measures propositions or opinions by these standards, and as they come up or fall short, so they are accepted or disposed of." If men would confine themselves to what they really know, there would be less speech-making. A speaker should at the outset find a common ground on which he and his hearers may meet. He must take them as he finds them, "speak down" to them, that there may be a point of contact. Then he may lead them skilfully along, step by step, by means of apt phrase, argument, simile, illustration, bearing them to his way of thinking.
A valuable principle of effective public speaking is that of action and reaction. At first the speaker leads the audience up to a certain pitch, and then relaxes. The next time he carries them a little higher, and again relaxes. This process, which rests the minds of the audience from time to time, is repeated as often as necessary, when suddenly the speaker hurls all his power into one strong climactic appeal, sweeps the audience off its feet—and the cause is won.