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Will In Public Speaking

( Originally Published 1907 )

"WHILE engaged in the composition of my ` Elements of Chemistry,' I perceived, better than I had ever done before, the truth of an observation of Condillac, that we think only through the medium of words ; and that languages are true analytic methods. The art of reasoning is nothing more than a language well arranged."— Lavoisier.

" In a thousand emergencies men have been obliged to act with quickness, and, at the same time, with caution; in other words, to examine subjects, and to do it, with expedition. The consequence of this is, that the numerous minute circumstances, involved more or less in all subjects of difficult inquiry, are passed in review with such rapidity, and are made in so small a degree the objects of separate attention, that they vanish and are forgotten."— Professor Upham.

The design of this chapter is suggestive only to the author's elaborate and practical work, "Power For Success." Power of Will is here the central consideration, and the following pages have mainly to do with that factor.

The chief difficulties of public speaking relate to thought, language and imagination. Those who lack one or the other of these talents can, therefore, never acquire the art. But such talents may exist without discovery, merely requiring proper cultivation. And the word " talent " must not be exaggerated. It is not necessary to possess great abilities in order to speak well before others. Many who would probably fail in presence of an audience express themselves with clearness, and sometimes with eloquence, in ordinary conversation. The difference between conversation and public speaking is largely the power of sustained effort. As Professor George H. Palmer re-marks: "Talking moves in sentences, and rarely demands a paragraph. I make my little remark — a dozen or two words — then wait for my friend to hand me back as many more. . . . The brief groupings of words which we make up in our talk furnish capital practice in precision, boldness, and variety; but they do not contain room enough for exercising our constructive faculties." The constructive faculties must therefore be cultivated. Any person of average brains can acquire thought and extend his vocabulary; and if he has persistent determination and opportunity, can force his ideas to put on the orderly clothing of vocal utterance.


1. Acquiring Thought. Brains count immensely in this matter. Your first source of trouble consists in a lack of sufficient thought. For this deficiency there is but one practical remedy. You should read, study, think, for the purpose of accumulating facts, acquiring opinions, furnishing the mind with thought. It is not enough to have ideas; these must be woven into some actual fabric by real thinking. When you know and think on any given subject, you can talk about it before an audience, other things being equal.

2. Developing Language. But other things seldom are equal. Hence, the next difficulty consists in a lack of language. You should first of all, now, accumulate a good stock of words — words — words - as the raw material of expression. If you are pursuing the directions previously suggested as to attention in reading and development of the power of thought, you are storing up in memory many words which are not heard in the average conversation. You should make it your business to enlarge your vocabulary by a large number of unpretentious and sober-minded words. In order to this, while accumulating thought, keep a good dictionary convenient for reference, and permit no word which you do not clearly understand to escape your zeal as collector. But avoid as much as possible odd words, long words, pedantic words.

3. Exercising Expression. Meanwhile you should seize every opportunity for practising the art of expression. Begin with everyday conversation. Refer to directions as to hesitation and exaggeration. Do not try to talk like a magazine article. Avoid the stilted style as strenuously as the slovenly. Above all, study and strive for natural, easy expression. At the same time you must employ your enriched store of words in the utterance of your increased fund of thought. This demands courage and Will. " We fall into the way of thinking that the wealthy words are for others, and that they do not belong to us." " When we use a word for the first time we are startled, as if a fire-cracker went off in our neighborhood. We look about hastily to see if any one has noticed. But finding that no one has, we may be emboldened. A word used three times slips off the tongue with entire naturalness. Then it is ours forever, and with it some phase of life which had been lacking hitherto." You should cultivate, therefore, the courage of a speech which is unusual to some of your circles. But always should you hold in mind the effort to state with freedom the exact truth or fact in the least redundant manner. Make this a goal, never for a moment to be forgotten.

4. Mental Speaking. In the next place, you should practise thinking in terms of words. Do not be content with mere notions about things. Think matters out verbally. When alone, think a sentence through, and then speak it aloud. Proceed immediately to improve the statement. Go on with another related thought ; work it out mentally in words ; then repeat and improve, as before. Become accustomed to your own voice under conscious conditions. In publie speaking you are conscious of your own voice and gesture, and this disturbs you. You should cease to be aware of self before an audience. To do so, you should become perfectly familiar with yourself in the labor of preparation.

5. The Plow of Mental Word-Using. Vary the above frequently by thinking your way through an entire subject without the practice of speaking. Do not be content with supposing that you know an item or phase of the subject well enough, and may there fore pass it by. You will often be surprised to discover in public speaking that the thing has suddenly become as dense as granite, and at that point you will hesitate and lose control of your thought. Let this be a rigid rule in all your preparation : Plow up every inch of ground by the actual use in mind of words put together to express your thought as you wish to de-liver it on the public occasion. But do not try to memorize the words employed in preparatory thinking. This would unsettle your public thinking and rob your speech of ease, vivacity and force. There is a dangerous middle between memoriter speaking and prepared extemporaneous utterance ; the mind labors to recall words not thoroughly memorized, and at the same time, strives for the freedom of the moment, and it thus lacks the exactness of the one thing and the force of the other. Think in words to prepare, but memorize nothing except the thought. Recollection of thought, however, must follow as a result of your labor in thinking, and especially of some sort of logical association, rather than of deliberate effort to commit to memory.

6. Making Connecting Links. It may be well to fasten in the mind a few catch-words, or connecting links, which come up naturally in thought, as a means of guidance when before an audience. But it is better, after all, to make your arrangement of thought such that, to yourself at least, one thing suggests another. Nevertheless, you should, in preparation, look well to your connections and transitions. Frequently one paragraph follows another naturally enough, but you find difficulty in letting go of one and in getting into the other. This is because you have not thought your way through the transitions, and you do not on the spur of the moment know how to do it. Make sure, then, before you begin to speak, that you are familiar with the links between thoughts and paragraphs.

7. Actual Practice. Seize every opportunity for public speaking that comes in your way. Practice in prepared utterance will be of invaluable service to you. Be equally on the alert for opportunities to speak on the spur of the moment. Resolve to learn to think on your feet with your voice in your ears.

8. Cultivating Imagination. A further difficulty relates to the imagination. You should cultivate this faculty, according to directions given for that purpose. You have now an opportunity for its exercise. Professor Palmer well says : " Most of us are grievously lacking in imagination, which is the ability to go out-side of ourselves and take on the conditions of another mind." In your plowing-up process of thought you should strive always to perceive in the mind every de-tail on which you are to speak. You must not only think matters out in words, but also realize all your subjects of discussion. If truth— feel it; if love experience it; if joy possess its emotions; and thus with all elements of the thing in hand, except evil.

9. Working up Illustration. This rule is especially applicable to illustrations. Do not try to talk about an incident in life without becoming part of it without seeing it clearly and vividly. But you must not be con-tent with such a realization of the incident —can you relate it? You are to think it all out, not to memorize, but to assure yourself that you have the ability to de-scribe it as seen in mind. Do not be content with a vague picture of nature, but call up before the mind all necessary details and state them in words. Only thus may you know that you can describe that scene. When you have gotten it clearly into language, determine what salient points you will suggest to your audience. Avoid the photographic style; remember that those to whom you are speaking possess some imagination; they resent an opposite assumption; they delight in painting, with lightning strokes, a reality which you have merely sketched.

These suggestions as to thought-preparation in words may be illustrated in the following manner: Let us suppose your audience to be a woodland lake, with various objects upon its surface, such as leaves, twigs, pieces of bark, etc. You wish to set its surface in motion, in waves and ripples, by striking one of these objects here and there. But you have no materials with which to do this. The shore is a clean slope of sand, and not a throwable thing upon it. You there fore gather such material from any distant source, making a mound ready for use. Now, you have not said : " This stone I gather for the purpose of hurling in a certain direction; that piece of bark to toss upon a given leaf ; and that clump of soil to cause a particular kind of wave." You do not arrange these details be-forehand. You gather abundance of material, with a given general purpose in view. You then manipulate that material in the manner best adapted to the end sought, leaving particulars to be determined by the demands of the occasion.

Observe. In thought-preparation for public speaking, you are not to memorize in any arbitrary way; you are simply to assure yourself that you know and can express thought on a given subject. On the public occasion you find thought and language ready for use because you have gathered them and they are separated from surrounding materials, loosely placed, so to speak, for instant employment.

Many speakers cease preparation with a general outline of the subject in hand. This is slovenliness, and they fail of reaching the highest mark of eloquence because they are poor in material. As a matter of fact they have at that point merely gotten ready for honest, hard work in preparatory thinking. Make sure, there-fore, of details, look well to your illustrations, have a care for the connections, and, above all, fill the mind with abundance of thought which has been thoroughly cast into words and sentences.

" When Nestor stood before the Greek generals and counseled attack upon Troy, he said: 'The secret of victory is in getting a good ready.' Wendell Phillips was once asked how he acquired his skill in the oratory of the Lost Arts. The answer was: 'By getting a hundred nights of delivery back of me.' "

10. Overcoming Stage Fright. The difficulty which seems most prevalent, however, is that of fear of the audience. Here is a curious thing. You are not afraid of any particular individual in the audience, perhaps, but the multitude of ordinary men and women shortens your breath, causes your heart to pound in your breast, and dries up the secretions of your mouth, till you are compelled to fashion words, as it were, out of raw cotton.

The difficulty is three-fold.

First, you do not become familiar with your audience prior to facing it. You must keep it and the coming occasion constantly in mind while making preparation. See that crowd of people, here and now; see it clearly and vividly. Then think out your subject in words addressed mentally to that sea of upturned faces. Remember forever that you don't look half as much frightened as you are; that the people do not gaze into your skull; that if you fling in a word with meaningless desperation now and then they will not, ninety-nine cases in the hundred, know the fact; and that, if you do not absolutely fail and fall flat (and you will not if you fiercely will otherwise), you will be doing vastly better than seventy-five percent. of your auditors could do.

Secondly, you are not in good practice. You must avail yourself of every opportunity for public speaking. The more difficult the occasion the better. Never let a chance slip. Forefend against surprises by preparing for all occasions wherein you may be called out or secure the floor. Don't be a bore — if it is possible to avoid it ; but, continue this practice, whether or no. Whenever you fail, laugh the discomfiture off — people will not remember it forever — and seize the next opportunity. Discover why you failed, and profit by experience. Analyze your success, and make sure of your forte. Follow with the persistence of the fox-hound the determination to win.

Thirdly, you are lacking in good Will power. You must summons Will to the mastery of all difficulties. Changeless resolution is necessary in all preparation. This is merely a matter of sticking to a purpose. But the latter does not exhaust the difficulties. You sup-pose yourself ready for the trial, and, in a sense, you are. It is in the concrete act of speaking that your trouble begins. You are afraid of man. Your Will suddenly becomes flabby, your force of spirit evaporates, and you cannot command your preparation. At this point bull-dog determination is required. Do not deserve defeat before uttering a word. Don't permit a feeling of collapse at the start. Put Will at the fore. Mentally defy the entire crowd. Fetch up all the egotism you possess. Fiercely challenge all foes. Keep cool at the outset. Take time to get a good send-off — it is your occasion. Put your thought into carefully chosen words ; be in no hurry ; proceed with deliberation enough to gain self-control and keep it. If you get on the track nicely, you will warm up after a little, and your audience will come to your assistance. Look the people straight in the eyes. Will to stand to it then and there. Will to keep your mental vision on a thought ahead. Resolutely appropriate the occasion as your own, and willfully use it as such. If the right word fails you, throw in another as nearly right as may be, or as meaningless as printers' " pie." If any one looks weary, ignore that person as an imbecile. Cleave to the friendly face, though it be that of a fool. Remember, everybody desires that you should do well, for an audience suffers under a public collapse. Believe that fact. Keep faith in yourself. Storm the situation. Resolve to win on the spot.

If you are called upon to speak at a late hour, when the people are weary and your enthusiasm is low — don't speak.

11. Confidence in Audience. Both in preparation and in delivery, the speaker should have confidence in and respect for his audience. Austin Phelps, Professor of Sacred Rhetoric in Andover Theological Seminary, wrote : " When President Lincoln was once inquired of what was the secret of his success as a popular debater, he replied, ` I always assume that my audience are in many things wiser than I am, and I say the most sensible thing I can to them.' Two things here were all that Mr. Lincoln was conscious of - respect for the intellect of his audience, and the effort to say the most sensible thing. He could not know how these two things affected the respect of his audience for him, their trust in him as their superior, and their inclination to obey him on the instant when they felt the magnetism of his voice. But he saw that, say what he might in that mood, he got a hearing, he was understood, he was obeyed."

12. Courage. The mind that would influence others by public speech must be fearless. In the author's work "The Culture of Courage," will be found practical directions for the development of a courageous spirit. Said the Emperor of Austria to Baron Wesselenyi, a Hungarian patriot, " Take care, Baron Wesselenyi, take care what you are about. Recollect that many of your family have been unfortunate." "Unfortunate, your majesty, they have been, but ever undeserving of their misfortunes." And the Baron would not apologize for this bold defense of his family's honor, even when attacked by his sovereign.

13. Profound Convictions. If you have great feeling in the beliefs you present, you inspire others with at least similar emotions. Could anything be more effective than the following from Louis Kossuth's description of his own appeal to his people:

" Reluctant to present the neck of the realm to the deadly stroke which aimed at its very life, and anxious to bear up against the horrors of fate, and manfully to fight the battle of Iegitimate defence, scarcely had I spoken the word scarcely had I added that the defence would require 200,000 men, and 80,000,000 of florins, when the spirit of freedom moved through the hall, and nearly 400 representatives rose as one man, and lifting their right arms towards God, solemnly said, 'We grant it, freedom or death ! ' Thus they spoke, and there they stood in calm and silent majesty, awaiting what further word might fall from my lips. And for myself ; it was my duty to speak, but the grandeur of the moment and the rushing waves of sentiment benumbed my tongue. A burning tear fell from my eyes, a sigh of adoration to the Almighty Lord fluttered on my lips; and, bowing low before the majesty of my people, as I bow now before you, gentlemen, I left the tribunal silently, speechless, mute. Pardon me my emotion— the shadows of our martyrs passed before my eyes; I heard the millions of my native land once more shouting ` liberty or death! ' "

14. Holding the Audience. A popular instructor in public speaking, Grenville Kleiser, says on this subject: " A public speaker should cultivate a conversational style of address. The day of stilted and bombastic oratory is passed. Audiences like and demand the most direct kind of speaking possible. . . . A speaker of real power must learn to emphasize his important thoughts, not by mere loudness of voice, nodding of the head, or slapping the hands loudly together, but rather by inflection, change of pitch, judicious pausing, and by other intellectual means..

The successful speaker should have force in his style. Not merely the force of loudness, but the force of earnestness and sincerity. It is the power behind the man that makes for effective oratory, the power `speaking on the tongue, beaming from the eye, informing every feature, and urging the whole man on-ward, right onward to his object.'"

You can make your every day affairs your contact with individuals or with groups precisely the training ground you seek for acquiring this power to hold men while you are addressing them.

In the entire subject, from first to last, keep at the fore the strong Mood of ,Will, the sense of resolute personality. Hold the mind steadily upon the motto of these pages : " I RESOLVE TO WILL ! ATTENTION ! "

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