( Originally Published 1912 )
WHY is it that when some men rise to speak every one listens, and when others do so every one begins talking to his neighbor? Is it not largely a difference in personality? There can be no doubt that next to the subject-matter itself, the manner of presenting it has much to do with success. A displeasing voice, an inflated tone, an awkward gesture, a lack of tact, or a dogmatic spirit, may utterly destroy the effect of the most profound and cogent reasoning.
The speaker's voice, as the principal vehicle of expression, should be an agree-able and flexible instrument, capable of extended modulation, and responsive to a wide range of feeling. The average voice can be developed wonderfully in a few weeks, by fifteen minutes' earnest practise daily, with exercises to be found in any good manual of elocution.
A quality that makes for success in argumentation is that of genuineness. It is disclosed in the speaker's face, voice, gesture, and manner. It may be observed even in his choice of words. Let there be the slightest pretension or insincerity, and presently it will be manifest in some part of his expression. The speaker's real character proclaims the man in spite of himself. If his disposition is to be fair and straightforward to an opponent, this will soon be recognized. A position may be defended with passionate zeal and with every available weapon, without the slightest resort to an unjust advantage.
Modesty in presenting one's views will often win a stubborn adversary. For this reason it is effective sometimes to interpose one's objections as coming from other than one's self, and in the form of inquiry rather than of infallibility. Few men like the idea of conversing with an oracle, and refuse to relinquish their right to independent judgment without at least a struggle. To conciliate them is often to win.
A successful disputant is essentially serious. It is fatal to any public man to be known only as a humorist. Wit and humor have their proper places, but to indulge in levity when important and momentous questions are under discussion is to lose weight with serious-minded men. A man who makes a practise of turning sentences into jests may soon turn friends into enemies.
A broad-minded man will willingly confess his ignorance upon certain subjects, since no one can be expected to know everything. But a man should not long remain in ignorance of the things he should know. If it be a doubtful fact, or even a word the meaning of which is not entirely clear to him, let him seek the needed information at once.
There is no better opportunity than that given by daily conversation for improving the quality of a speaker's thought and speech. He can, if he choose, direct the stream of common talk toward profitable subjects. By a tactful word or suggestion, he can so raise the level of conversation that his hearers will afterward have the conscious feeling of having been in the company of a superior mind.
Conversation offers, too, an exceptional opportunity to a man to keep himself under close observation. He can observe how well he keeps his powers in hand. Should he lose control of himself, he is as likely to lose control of others. He will avoid a dictatorial spirit, a desire unduly to thrust his views upon others, to speak presumptuously, or in any way to give offense. He will learn here to view a proposition on all sides, giving a ready ear to those who have contrary opinions to offer. A spirit of generosity toward an adversary seldom goes unrewarded. It is this beneficent spirit, indeed, that often wins in argument.
When a man seeks to drive home an argument, he should look his opponent straight in the eyes. This is the most direct communication between mind and mind. A speaker who has cultivated a vivid, versatile imagination and brings it to bear upon his subject will have little difficulty in interesting the listener. There is a charm of manner that is natural to some men, . but must be cultivated by others. What is called a winning personality is almost as important in presenting certain forms of argument as are the facts themselves.
The man who would argue and win must cultivate sincerity and intense earnestness. A statement exprest with. feeling and sympathy will often prove more effective than an authoritative one.. Too many truths, inopportunely stated, become wearisome, and we should remember that our object is not merely to-argue, but to convince and win.
We have spoken of sincerity in the speaker. This means that he should be honest both with himself and with others. As he is looking for truths, and proofs,. he should give just consideration to opinions and objections advanced by an opponent. A generous manner will assure at least a patient hearing.
It is well known that the very quality of a man's voice gives weight to his argument. One instinctively turns away from certain men because of peculiarity in expression. There is a disagreeable element lurking in their speech which immediately antagonizes you. Such men must, indeed, speak unusually well in order to persuade you to their way of thinking.
A man of convincing personality, especially in driving home his arguments, must have real knowledge of other men. He should think of them as fashioned like himself, with doubts and prejudices, and with varied experiences and influences to be met and satisfied. The speaker need not relinquish his convictions, but he must be able to adapt them in new ways to meet new conditions. He should remember that truth may be uttered with such sharpness as to stab rather than enlighten.
A man who would argue and win must be fearless. This is the natural outcome of sincerity and truth. He may be positive without being dogmatic. The dogmatic man insists on assent to the form. of truth, while the merely positive man states the truth clearly and firmly with due allowance for difference in the judges ments of other men.
A speaker's articulation and pronunciation play a part in the impression that he makes upon others. If the vowels are well rounded, and the consonants given their full significance, the speaker's style is enhanced both in tone and effectiveness.
One can not but feel that a man who is careless in his expression is equally care-less in his thought. Ideas that are clearly defined in the mind, in order to be clearly imprest upon the listener must be clearly exprest by the speaker.
The very tone of voice in which a speaker presents his arguments is important. If he speaks in too high a key, for example, he is out of tune with the listener, and to be out of tune means to be out of harmony. For this important reason a speaker will keep to his conversational tones, whether he speak privately or in public. If the nature of his subject causes him to be unusually emphatic he will depend upon intensity and earnestness rather than upon increased loudness and violence.
The importance of speech culture can not be too strongly emphasized in the building of a forceful personality. Channing well says :
"A man was not made to shut up his mind in itself ; but to give it voice and to exchange it for other minds. Speech is one of our grand distinctions from the brute. Our power over others lies not so much in the amount of thought within us as in the power of bringing it out. A man of more than ordinary intellectual vigor may, for want of expression, be a cipher, without significance, in society. And not only does a man influence others, but he greatly aids his own intellect by giving distinct and forcible utterance to his thoughts. We understand ourselves better, our conceptions grow clearer, by the very effort to make them clear to another. Our social rank, too, depends a good deal on our power of utterance. The principal distinction between what are called gentlemen and the vulgar lies in this, that the latter are awkward in manners, and are especially wanting in propriety, clearness, grace, and force of utterance."
A convincing personality manifests itself in one's carriage and walk. We are favorably imprest when we see a man with chest held high and active, his chin level and head well poised, and his walk sure and firm. An upright spine seems to betoken a like spirit in the person him-self. On the contrary, a man that is awkward in appearance, with stooped shoulders, flat chest, unduly prominent abdomen, and a shuffling walk leads us to associate these characteristics of weakness with his mind and life.
To develop a strong personality a man should endeavor to be at his best even when alone. He will not have for company a set of good manners, and for him-self or family a set of bad manners. On the contrary, he will so conduct himself in his private capacity that, when he stands before the public, he will act and speak naturally because it is his regular habit to do so.
It is a mistake to wait for great occasions on which to be self-confident.
This attitude of mind should be cultivated as a regular daily habit. A man may double his personality by constantly maintaining a high estimate of himself, and even by assuming the outward physical appearance of self-reliance.
Debt has been known to destroy not only a man's self-confidence, but his whole personal character. Dr. Johnson ascribed a man's downfall to debt and called it not only a calamity, but an enemy to human happiness. Some of the world's greatest men have fallen by the stroke of the insidious power of debt. One step leads easily to another. The first lapse is merely lack of punctuality in meeting an obligation. The next is deception, and probably lying. Then follow rapidly carelessness, indifference, open defiance, discouragement, despair, and failure. The burden becomes so heavy that personality is lost and self-confidence forever shattered.
Let a man pay as he goes—or not go.
It should put pride and power and self-confidence in any man to be able to stand up before the world and say, "I owe no man a dollar." And if such a man, through industry and economy, have a bank account with a decent sum of money to his credit, he has that much more reason to stand erect with assurance and independence.