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- Public Speaking - 10/65 -


In the public lecture the element of entertainment enters prominently. The audience, at first in a passive state, must be awakened, and taken on with the speaker. Probably it must be instructed, perhaps amused. The speaker must make his own occasion. He has no help from the circumstance of predisposition among his auditors. He must compel, or he must win; he must charm or thrill; or he must do each in turn. Animation, force, beauty, dramatic contrast, vividness, variety, are the qualities that will more or less serve, according to the style of the composition. Aptness in the story or anecdote, facility in graphic illustration, readiness in expressing emotion, happiness in the imitative faculty, for touching off the eccentric in character or incident, are talents that come into play, and in the exercise of these, gesture of course has an important place.

The lecture platform is perhaps the only field, with possibly the exception of what is properly the after-dinner speech, wherein public speaking may be viewed as strictly an art, something to be taken for its own sake, wherein excellence in the doing is principally the end in view. This means, generally, that individual talent, and training in all artistic requirements, count for more than the subject or any "accidents of office," in holding the auditor's interest. An animated and versatile style can be cultivated by striving to make effective the public lecture.


Informal discussion is the name chosen for the lecture or talk in the club or the classroom. It implies a rather small audience and familiar relations between audience and speaker. While the subject may be weighty, and the language may be necessarily of the literary or scientific sort, the style of speaking should be colloquial. It ought to bring the hearer pretty near to the speaker. If the subject and language are light, the speaking will be sprightly and comparatively swift.

Since the occasion for this kind of speaking is frequent, and the opportunity for it is likely to fall to almost any educated man, proficiency in it might well be made an object in the course of one's educational training. The end aimed at is the ability to talk well. This accomplishment is not so easy as it may seem. It marks, indeed, the stage of maturity in speech-making. Since authoritative opinion from the speaker and interest in the subject on the part of the audience are prime elements in this form of discussion, little cultivation of form is usually given to this kind of speaking. The result is much complaining from auditors about inaudibleness, dullness, monotony, annoying mannerisms, or a too formal, academic tone that keeps the audience remote, a lack of what is called the human quality. A good talker from the desk not only has the reward of appreciation and gratitude, but is able to accomplish results in full proportion to all that he puts into the improvement of his vocal work. An agreeable tone, easy formation of words, clear, well-balanced emphasis, good phrasing, or grouping of words in the sentence, some vigor without continual pounding, easy, unstudied bodily movement without manneristic repetition of certain motions, in short, good form without any obtrusive appearance of form,--these are the qualities desired.


In the case of the forensic, we come nearer to the practical in public speaking. The speaker aims, as a rule, to effect a definite purpose, and he concentrates his powers upon this immediate object. Since the speech is for the most part an appeal to the reason, and therefore deals largely with fact and the logical relations of ideas, precision and clearness of statement are the chief qualities to be cultivated. But since the aim is to overcome opposition, and produce conviction, and so to impress and stir as to affect the will to a desired action, the element of force, and the moving quality of persuasion enters in as a reŽnforcement of the speaker's logic. Generally the speech is very direct, and often it is intense. It has in greater degree than any other form the feature of aggressiveness. Some form of attack is adopted, for the purpose of overthrowing the opposing force. That attack is followed up in a direct line of argument, and is carried out to a finish. In delivery the continuous line of pursuit thus followed often naturally leads to a kind of effective monotone style, wherein the speaker keeps an even force, or strikes blow after blow, or sends shot after shot. The characteristic feature of the forensic style is the climax--climax in brief successions of words, climax in the sentence, climax in giving sections of the speech, climax in the speech as a whole.

Special notice should be taken of the fact that, in earnest argument, sentences have, characteristically, a different run from that in ordinary expository speaking. Whereas in the expository style the sentence flows, as a rule, easily forth, with the voice rising and falling, in an undulatory sort of way, and dropping restfully to a finish, in the heated forensic style, the sentence is given the effect of being sent straight forth, as if to a mark, with the last word made the telling one, and so kept well up in force and pitch. The accumulating force has the effect of sending the last word home, or of making it the one to clinch the statement.

The dangers to be guarded against in debate are wearying monotony, over-hammering--too frequent, too hard, too uniform an emphasis--too much, or too continued heat, too much speed, especially in speaking against time, a loss of poise in the bearing, a halting or jumbling in speech, nervous tenseness in action, an overcontentious or bumptious spirit. Bodily control, restraint, good temper, balance, are the saving qualities. A debater must remember that he need not be always in a heat. Urbanity and graciousness have their place, and the relief afforded by humor is often welcome and effective.

In no form of speaking, except that of dramatic recitation, is the liability to impairment of voice so great as it is in debating. One of the several excellent features of debating is that of the self- forgetfulness that comes with an earnest struggle to win. But perhaps a man cannot safely forget himself until he has learned to know himself. The intensity of debating often leads, in the case of a speaker vocally untrained, to a tightening of the throat in striving for force, to a stiffening of the tongue and lips for making incisive articulation, to a rigidness of the jaw from shutting down on words to give decisive emphasis. Soon the voice has the juice squeezed out of it. The tone becomes harsh and choked; then ragged and weak. The only remedy is to go straight back and begin all over, just as a golfer usually does when he has gone on without instruction. The necessity of going back is often not realized till later in life; then the process is much harder, and perhaps can never be entirely effective. The teacher in the course of his experience meets many, many such cases. The time to learn the right way is at the beginning.

Among the selections here offered for forensic practice, examples in debate serve for the cultivation of the aggressiveness that comes from immediate opposition; examples in the political speech for acquiring the abandon and enthusiasm of the so-called popular style; in the legal plea for practice in suppressed force. In the case of the last of these, it is well that the audience be near to the speaker, as is the case in an address to a judge or jury. The idea is to be forcible without being loud and high; to cultivate a subdued tone that shall, at the same time, be vital and impressive. The importance of a manner of speaking that is not only clear and effective, but also agreeable, easy to listen to, is quite obvious when we consider the task of a judge or a jury, who have to sit for hours and try to carry in their minds the substance of all that has been said, weighing point against point, balancing one body of facts against another. A student can arrange nearly the same conditions as to space, and can, by exercise of imagination, enter into the spirit of a legal conflict.


After-dinner speaking is another form that many men may have an opportunity to engage in. It can also be practiced under conditions resembling those of the actual occasion, that is, members of the class can be so seated that the speaking may become intimate in tone, and speeches can be selected that will serve for cultivating that distinctive, sociable quality of voice that, in itself, goes far in contributing to the comfort and delight of the after-dinner audience. The real after-dinner speech deals much in pleasantry. The tone of voice is characteristically unctuous. Old Fezziwig is described by Dickens as calling out "in a comfortable, rich, fat, jovial, oily voice." Something like this is perhaps the ideal after-dinner voice, although there is a dry humor as well as an unctuous, and each speaker will, after all, have his own way of making his hearers comfortable, happy, and attentive. Ease and deliberation are first requisites. Nervous intensity may not so much mar the effect of earnest debate. The social chat is spoiled by it. Humor, as a rule, requires absolute restfulness. Especially should a beginner guard himself against haste in making the point at the finish of a story. It does no harm to keep the hearer waiting a bit, in expectation. The effect may be thus enhanced, while the effect will be entirely lost if the point, and the true touch, are spoiled by uncontrolled haste. The way to gain this ease and control is not by stiffening up to master one's self, but by relaxing, letting go of one's self. Practice in the speech of pleasantry may have great value in giving a man repose, in giving him that saving grace, an appreciation of the humorous, in affording him a means of relief or enlivenment to the serious speech.


The occasional poem is so frequently brought forth in connection with speech-making that some points regarding metrical reading may be quite in place in a speaker's training. Practice in verse reading is of use also because of the frequency of quoted lines from the poets in connection with the prose speech.

To read a poem well one must become in spirit a poet. He must not only think, he must feel. He must exercise imagination. He must, we will say it again, see visions and dream dreams. What was said about vividness in the discussion of expressional effects applies generally to the reading of poetry. One will read much better if he has tried to write-- in verse as well as in prose. He will then know how to put himself in the place of the poet, and will not be so likely to mar the poet's verses by "reading them ill-favoredly." He will know the value of words that have been so far sought, and may not slur over them; he may feel the sound of a line formed to suggest a sound in nature. He will know that a meter has been carefully worked out, and that, in the reading, that meter is of the spirit of the poem; it is not to be disregarded. Likewise he will appreciate the place of rhyme, and may not try so to cover it up as entirely to lose its effect. In humorous verse,

Public Speaking - 10/65

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