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How To Win And Hold An Audience (continued)

( Originally Published 1922 )

Form of Delivery

At the crucial moment when you rise to begin your speech a good deal will depend upon the form of delivery you have decided on. Of course many high school speeches are written, committed, and recited from memory. Still, high school students who speak at all, and are starting out with the hope and purpose of becoming strong, trained public speakers, will, from time to time, most likely practise all the forms of discourse that a mature man or woman would use. So it is worth while at this point to take up with some care the various methods that public men adopt in the preparation and delivery of their speeches. While the art of speech-making is being learned, it may as well be learned right. There is no reason why these first steps of instruction should be replaced in after life. So what follows assumes that the student is in the world and of the world.


The least popular way to present a speech is to write it and then read it to the audience. This method of delivery appeals strongly to the timid person, and to the person who has a passion for exactness, and the person who delights in polished beauty of style. In the quiet of his own room the speaker can spend hours and days upon the careful preparation of his address. No matter how his hand may tremble, or his knees knock together, when he comes before the audience, he knows that he can stand up and read what he has put down on paper.

Moreover, he may at that anxious moment dismiss from his mind any fear about the truth and accuracy of what he has to present. And he can take delight (and he knows that a good many in the audience, will take delight with him) in the finish of the sentence structure, the glowing beauty of his figures of. speech, the nicety of his diction. These are things that count for much with one who loves truth and who has an artist's skill in the use of language.

But how strong the arguments are against the use of a manuscript before an audience! One cannot enter fully into the occasion. The magic play of the eye in friendly interchange with the audience is lost. One talks down to his paper instead of to his audience. One's position must be stiff or cramped. If any gestures are made they will be awkward and mechanical. Says Beecher: "A man's whole form is a part of his public speaking. His feet speak and so do his hands. I have seen workmen talking on the street, stopping, laughing, and slapping their hands on their knees. Why, their very gestures were a good oration, although I did not hear a word that was said. A man who speaks right before his audience, and without notes, will speak, little by little, with the gestures of the whole body, and not with the gestures of one finger alone."

Again, you cut yourself off from much friendly aid from your audience. The crowd often gives as much as it gets. No true speech can be fully prepared beforehand, for the auditors enter into it as a prime factor. Said William Pitt: "Eloquence is not in the man, it is in the assembly." If the general run of people knew how much they do enter into the making or the marring of a speech, they would play their part better, and there would be many more good speeches than there are. Half the charm and power of many a speech is due to the way it is listened to and responded to. Smiles and nods of approval, looks of doubt or disapproval, glarings of anger, clenched teeth and fists, tossings of the head in contempt, react at once, and in powerful ways upon the speaker, leading him to expand this point, to press that one home, and to limit, modify, or illustrate another.


Next to reading a speech from the manuscript the least popular method of delivery is that of memorizing it and giving it by rote. The student nearly always renders his speech in this way. He can hardly do otherwise at first, for he has not learned to speak on his feet and talk with ease and confidence before others.. Unless his speech has to do with his own round of games and chores and pranks and mishaps, he can say little that he has not thought out and written down and committed to memory. The fact is, nearly all great speakers no matter how old and experienced they may be write down and commit to memory parts at least of their most famous speeches. So there can be no doubt that the path to success very often leads by this route. This method is good, in that it demands careful study and preparation, and in that it provides for accuracy of statement and polished form. Moreover, one is able to look the audience in the eye, and to use the whole body in appropriate movement and action.

But the penalties and handicaps are severe. It is a most tedious and laborious way. Not only must one labor at the task of composition, but there follows the still more irksome task of memorizing word by word. No matter how carefully the speech is committed, there will be danger that one may forget, and nothing is more painful and humiliating than this. Again, even though the production be perfectly remembered, it may be given in a cold, mechanical way slipping along the well-worn track of memory without carrying any of the warmth and rugged earnestness that went with it at the time it was forged in the brain and beaten out on paper. It has become such a habit to utter the words that thought and feeling are likely to fall into the background leaving only a hollow shell of words. On the other hand, if the piece is not thoroughly gotten by heart the attention of the speaker is turned away from the free, glad play of thought and feeling between the audience and himself, and his mind is turned inward in a painful effort to recall and give out the matter as he has seen it so often on his manuscript. The effect is almost the same as if he were holding the paper and reading from it, except that now, in addition to this handicap of reading to the audience rather than talking to it, he is tortured with anxiety for fear that he may break down completely. As a usual thing the magic and fire of true eloquence departs when this method is adopted, though there are times and occasions when the speaker scores a tremendous success with a committed oration,


Extemporaneous speaking is the most popular form of all. It is not necessarily an easy way. It differs from impromptu speech. It requires long and faithful preparation 3 Extemporaneous address requires that words, figures of speech, and illustrations be supplied at the moment of delivery, but ideas are su posed to have undergone a long ripening process beforehand. And even figures of speech, examples, and illustrations may e thought out in advance, and turned loose in the mind with the expectation that the ill, like a faithful dog or bronco, come promptly at call. Not only will the subject mat-ter have been brought together by patient search and toil; it will have been reflected upon, analyzed, and arranged in orderly fashion In fact, all that the mind can store up by the slow toil of days and weeks will lie in solution in the brain and heart of the speaker as he comes before his audience. If now at the crucial moment he is thrilling with eagerness and excitement, yet composed and master of himself, he has a glorious experience before him. e will enjoy himself to the full and will give joy to other very faculty will be in lively play Speaker and audience will become one, just as the skilled horseman becomes a part of his horse as it stretches out for the long gallop across the prairies. rom the teeming stores of his mind, thought will seize the exact fact, the appropriate illustration, with the deftness and skill of an artist who dips his brush now into this color, now into that The kindled imagination will supply him with fresh images, and will fan his feelings into flame. Memory will be on tiptoe to marshal his points and arguments, by squads, by companies, by battalions, and by regiments. His voice will be flexible, his bearing easy and relaxed. His gestures will be free and natural. His eye will both carry the light of his own inspiration to those whom he addresses, and will draw from their eager and sympathetic eyes new gleams of insight and meaning The whole man will be alive and in full possession of every power.

The extemporaneous speaker is able to adapt himself instantly to the changing moods of his audience, and to seize and turn to use any strange or sudden happening Nature and current events become his allies. A clap of thunder, a flash of lightning, the distant boom of a gun, or the sound of martial music, a gleam of sunlight flooding the room after hours of gloom, a diversion in the audience caused by the cry of a baby, the bark of a dog, some ludicrous mishap any one of these interruptions may be seized by the extemporaneous speaker and used with instant and telling effect Or, it may be, as he eaves his room, he reads in the eve g paper news of some national or world calamity a railroad wreck, an earthquake, a disaster at-sea, a flood, a fire, a cyclone, the assassination of some great man, the declaration of war, or the signing of peace between two nations. As he steps upon the platform the spiritual atmosphere may be tense with curiosity, anxiety, or excitement because of some such world calamity or public event. The trained speaker who chooses his words at the moment may turn such circumstances to his advantage instead of becoming the victim of them; at one time relieving the curiosity of the crowd by the last word that has come over the wire; at another allaying the dread and terror by calm, wise explanation and assurance; and, again, turning the intense emotions into patriotic or spiritual channels.

This is the bright side. There is a gloomier side. After the most thorough preparation the speaker may find as he goes before the audience that he is physically fagged out or mentally depressed. "All the uses of this world" may at that moment seem to him "stale, flat, and unprofitable. As a result he will drag through the address with labor and pain. The audience will go away disappointed; and he will go home in disgust, determined that he will never again attempt to make a speech an extemporaneous one, at least or he may approach the hour for his speech eager, alert, with a picture in his mind of a large audience waiting expectantly to hear him, and may find to his dismay only a handful of people sitting in deep gloom, at wide distances from each other in a chilly, barn-like room. In such a case he must be a genial, courageous man if he succeed. At another time the room may be warm and bright, the audience large, friendly, and enthusiastic; all the outward circumstances may be perfect; And yet the extemporaneous speaker may fail miserably not from lack of preparation, but from over-preparation He may have worked so long and intensely over the speech, been so anxious about it as he held it in his mind, working and living through it over and over again up to the last moment, that he finds himself now mentally and emotionally exhausted. His throat is dry, his muscles are tense, he cannot revive again the warmth of feeling and leap of imagination to which he had wrought himself up as he paced the room during the long hours before coming.Memory, even, plays truant; his words do not come at call; and so he stumbles and blunders through only by sheer effort of will and then sits down sick at heart. There is, too, a powerful temptation for the gifted speaker, the trained speaker, and the speaker who is called upon constantly for speeches, to trust to luck and inspiration and the quickening influence of the crowd Such a speaker is on the down grade. He will not last long.


Of these various ways, then, which shall one choose? Who is able to say? Each has its strong points; each has its drawbacks.

It may be interesting to place side by side passages from two letters recently received by the author. Both are from men of national reputation as public speakers. The first is from the Honorable Charles F. Scott, of Kansas, who served ten years in Congress; the second from Rev. Dan McGurk, D.D., of Ohio, a popular clergyman, and widely known lecturer.

Mr. Scott writes:

I had a foolish notion that it ought not to be necessary for a man who really had any ability as a speaker to make written preparation or to commit his speech to memory, and so for several years I blundered about, doubtless to the great weariness of my audiences and to the serious detriment of the Republican party which I was earnestly trying to help. One day Senator Ingalls came to my town to deliver the Memorial Day address, and with a humorous apology that he had not had time to prepare an extemporaneous speech, he took a manuscript from his pocket and read it. Later on I asked him for the manuscript in order to make some excerpts from it, and I noticed it had been revised, altered and amended with as much care as a sophomore would take with his first oration. And then it dawned upon me that if a United States Senator, one of the foremost orators in America, who had been making speeches to old soldiers for thirty years, thought it necessary to write his speech in advance for an occasion of this kind, it certainly would not be beneath the dignity of a country editor to do the same thing. And thereafter for many years I carefully wrote out and committed to memory every important speech I had to make.

Dr. McGurk writes:

Many things enter into oratory, but ability to think on one's feet is absolutely essential. It has saved me many times. Once in Kansas City I was called on to speak to about two hundred "newsies" and other boys of the street. It was a club I had helped to organize, and it met in the Elks' Club Gymnasium. A treat of apples and doughnuts was to be given them. The Director insisted I should make a speech. For speeches they had no appetite, but they were hungry for those apples and doughnuts. However, I mounted a chair and started in, I suppose in a very "preachery" way. I had only uttered a few sentences when a boy in the rear called out,

"Ah, cut it out, guy; we don't want no preachin'!"

Well, what could a manuscript or memorizer speaker have done? Swallow his chagrin and quit, I suppose. But an inspiration came to me. Roosevelt was in the height of his popularity as President. I immediately threw out the challenge

"Who is the greatest man in America?"

With one voice they let out a stentorian roar,

"Teddy Roosevelt."

I came back, "What does Teddy Roosevelt stand for?" Again without any hesitation came the roar, "Square deal!"

I had my crowd then. Then I asked, "Do you think I am getting a square deal?" The crowd took it, and a larger boy said:

"You cut that out, Red! This here guy's gonna make a speech if he wants to."

And I did. Why? Because I had learned in college to think on my feet."

As usual, Beecher hits the nail on the head. He says concerning the best method of speech to adopt: "But ut, after all, the man who goes where the game is, always finding it and bringing it home with him, is the best hunter; and I care not whether he carry fixed or loose ammunition That is the best cat that catches the most rats."

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