Releation Of Conversation To Public Speaking
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The formal or informal giving of views from one to many. Object: To educate.
The formal or informal presentation of ideas by opponents. Object: To convince.
If you would be a successful conversationalist, there are a few qualifications that are essential. First of all, and most important, you must be genuinely interested in people. This will eliminate self-consciousness and awkwardness; it will give you poise and a sensitiveness to the reactions of others that will guide you in selecting the topics of conversation suitable to the company and the occasion, and in saying the proper things in the proper way. Second, you must possess a pleasing voice, for even the most interesting news will irritate if the speaker's voice is unpleasant. Third, you must be well informed about a large number of subjects and keep up to date on current affairs. You must train yourself to remember the worth-while things that you hear, see, and read; then you must learn to present them in a way that will make others want to listen. Few of us are like Bacon, of whom Ben Jonson said, "His hearers could not look aside or cough without loss," but we can learn to talk so that others will want to listen to us.
If you find conversation difficult, the trouble lies chiefly within yourself. You may be self-centered, thinking about the impression you are making rather than centering your attention on those about you. You may feel that you don't know enough to take part in the conversation; the remedy lies in listening intelligently and interestedly. A good listener is often more stimulating than a speaker. But never let your-self remain ignorant, once you have discovered your deficiency in a subject. Be prepared the next time the subject arises. You will have gained something by listening. Supplement this by reading and thinking until you can contribute something to the subject the next time it comes up.
Perhaps people in general bore you. Don't admit it, for to do so stamps you as a snob. Try to overcome the habit of feeling bored, for it is largely a habit. Remember that the life of every person would make an interesting novel if the facts were properly presented. If you will try to discover why each person is as he is, you will learn much about human nature that will help you in all your contacts. Of course you can't go about prying into people's lives, but you can learn a great deal both from what people say and from what they leave unsaid. Whenever you feel bored remember that the fault is yours, for if you were alert and using all your faculties you could find something of interest in what was being said, or you could divert the conversation into an interesting channel.
Remember that conversation must vary according to the occasion and the group. At times light conversation about trivial matters is best; small intimate groups may prefer serious, rather heavy discussions of questions of the day; two or three friends may want to talk of personal affairs.
As you read the following pages, notice how important it is for you always to maintain an objective attitude. Keep your interest focused outside yourself. Consider always what subjects others wish to discuss and what will give pleasure to the greatest number of the group.
You may be inclined to say, as a little girl similarly instructed did, "But when am I going to talk about what I want to talk about?" The answer is that you can cultivate an interest in others so that you will enjoy listening to them more than hearing the sound of your own voice. Further-more, your success as a conversationalist is measured by the pleasure you give others, both by being an appreciative listener and by talking about subjects that will interest them.
The way in which you say a thing is even more important than the words themselves. Two persons can use the same words: one will kill conversation with his finality and coldness; the other will stimulate conversation and bring a warmth to the group atmosphere. You must feel friendly, enthusiastic, and interested if your words are to contribute to the success of conversation.