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The Informal Address

( Originally Published 1922 )

The terms talk, speech, and informal address overlap. They all have reference to public discourse. But it would be difficult to say whether a given discourse should be called a talk, a speech, or an address. At least it would be hard to decide before it had been delivered whether to advertise it as a talk, a speech, or an informal address. After one had heard it, one might define it pretty exactly. It is hardly proper to apply any one of these three terms to a publicly uttered production that has been written out beforehand. If written and then read to the audience, or recited from memory, it would more fittingly be called an oration, or a formal address, than a talk, a speech, or an informal address. If it were read or recited it would lack some-what in freshness and ease. It is true that in America there is one unique and eloquent form of discourse known as the nominating speech which is prepared with the utmost care. It is usually written out and perfectly committed to memory. Such productions might properly be called orations.

Since the terms talk, speech, and informal address are often used interchangeably, it is desirable before commenting upon the informal address to point out that each expression does have its more or less distinct angle of meaning. If the chair-man of a meeting should telephone to you and say, "We are going to call on you for a talk at the rally next Tuesday night," you would have a right to assume that your remarks were to be brief, informal in the extreme, without definite limits-or outline as easy and natural as ordinary conversation with a group of your friends.* If you were invited to make a speech at a certain meeting, it would not be quite so easy to know what was expected of you. The word speech is a very broad term. On one side it is near neighbor, perhaps blood kin, to plebeian harangue, and on the other side, as was pointed out above, it claims connection with patrician oration. Besides, a speech may just as well be long as short, while a talk should always be brief; so a discreet person when requested to make a speech will ask at once whether the speech is to be long or short; whether there are to be other speakers, and if so, how many; whether he is to speak first or last, or is to come on between other speakers. He will try to find out what sort of audience he will have, and what the keynote of the meeting is to be, and in what degree he is expected to strike or sustain that note. The informal address is a sort of intermediate term. It implies a certain degree of brevity; but it need not be very short. It might be as short as fifteen minutes in length; it would be very risky to make it more than forty; while thirty would be a safe and sane and almost ideal limit. No one would expect impassioned eloquence in an informal address, but, on the other hand, people of taste would be disappointed if it were disjointed and overfamiliar. It is likely, if you are asked to give an address that you will be the only speaker; while it is more than probable that you will share the time with others if you are announced for a talk or speech.

The informal address is called for on widely differing occasions. It is in demand at civic meetings, and religious gatherings, and fraternal affairs, and conferences and institutes, and conventions. It is a plain everyday, serviceable sort of discourse. It may combine fact and information with wit and humor and feeling. It is not likely to move in the highest altitudes of emotion, nor is it expected to descend to the lower levels of buffoonery, partisanship, and boastfulness. By means of the informal address much may be done to educate and arouse the general public. A good address should be both popular and soundly instructive. As a general thing, such discourses are given under very favorable circumstances. The audience is well-disposed. They are usually united in sentiment, or at least willing to arrive at some joint action. They are present for the sake of getting information, or in the hope that the whole audience may be aroused to act in common. The speaker is respected and trusted, otherwise he would not be invited to speak on the occasion.

The informal address requires of the speaker tact, good judgment, honest and careful preparation. What he says should be fresh, and timely, and trustworthy. He should not speak unless he is interested in the topic and the occasion and can enter earnestly into the plan, or undertaking, or impelling ideal that brings the audience together. He ought to be eager to meet the expectation and help to realize the hopes of those who have asked him to speak. He ought to make every proper effort to interest the people, because by so doing he can best instruct and inspire them; and, besides, the people have a right to enjoy themselves, and it is a virtue on the part of a speaker to be entertaining so long as neither truth, logic, nor good taste suffers in the process. When he rises to speak he should go directly to the point; he should have the trend of his remarks clearly in mind with certain definite points to mark his way; he should be animated; he should have apt and interesting illustrations; he should stop when he is through; and, whether or not he is through, he should not exceed the limit of time assigned to him. It is vain, selfish, foolish to take more time than one is asked or expected to take.


Caution. Take care not to deceive yourself into the idea that informal means unprepared. Nor yet do not think that it means license in using the time of your audience. Prepare, con over the wording of your talk; then take to heart this advice given by a well-known speaker as his one rule of oratory: "Get up, speak up, and shut up."

1. Prepare a ten-minute speech addressed to grammar grade pupils on " Why Go to High School?" Draw your facts from what you know your-self, from reading, and from the study of Census, Bureau of Education, and other reports. Give the speech in class.

2. Chauncey Depew tells interestingly of how he broke himself of the tobacco habit. Give a talk on "Habits: How to Form Good Ones, How to Break Bad Ones."

3. Tell the class in a five-minute talk what character in books you like best and why.

4. Describe the strange or intelligent behavior of animals you have observed.

15. Tell the class about your favorite sport.

6. Newly elected officers are often called upon to make speeches. These are usually impromptu, as well as informal talks. Elect different members of the class to different offices, and call upon each for a speech.

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