The Art of Public Speaking
INFLUENCING BY NARRATION
The art of narration is the art of writing in hooks and eyes. The principle consists in making the appropriate
thought follow the appropriate thought, the proper fact the proper fact; in first preparing the mind for what is
to come, and then letting it come.
--WALTER BAGEHOT, Literary Studies.
Our very speech is curiously historical. Most men, you may observe, speak only to narrate; not in imparting
what they have thought, which indeed were often a very small matter, but in exhibiting what they have
undergone or seen, which is a quite unlimited one, do talkers dilate. Cut us off from Narrative, how would the
stream of conversation, even among the wisest, languish into detached handfuls, and among the foolish utterly
evaporate! Thus, as we do nothing but enact History, we say little but recite it.
--THOMAS CARLYLE, On History.
Only a small segment of the great field of narration offers its resources to the public speaker, and that includes
the anecdote, biographical facts, and the narration of events in general.
Narration--more easily defined than mastered--is the recital of an incident, or a group of facts and
occurrences, in such a manner as to produce a desired effect.
The laws of narration are few, but its successful practise involves more of art than would at first appear--so
much, indeed, that we cannot even touch upon its technique here, but must content ourselves with an
examination of a few examples of narration as used in public speech.
In a preliminary way, notice how radically the public speaker's use of narrative differs from that of the
story-writer in the more limited scope, absence of extended dialogue and character drawing, and freedom
from elaboration of detail, which characterize platform narrative. On the other hand, there are several
similarities of method: the frequent combination of narration with exposition, description, argumentation, and
pleading; the care exercised in the arrangement of material so as to produce a strong effect at the close
(climax); the very general practise of concealing the "point" (dénouement) of a story until the effective
moment; and the careful suppression of needless, and therefore hurtful, details.
So we see that, whether for magazine or platform, the art of narration involves far more than the recital of
annals; the succession of events recorded requires a plan in order to bring them out with real effect.
It will be noticed, too, that the literary style in platform narration is likely to be either less polished and more
vigorously dramatic than in that intended for publication, or else more fervid and elevated in tone. In this
latter respect, however, the best platform speaking of today differs from the models of the preceding
generation, wherein a highly dignified, and sometimes pompous, style was thought the only fitting dress for a
public deliverance. Great, noble and stirring as these older masters were in their lofty and impassioned
eloquence, we are sometimes oppressed when we read their sounding periods for any great length of
time--even allowing for all that we lose by missing the speaker's presence, voice, and fire. So let us model our
platform narration, as our other forms of speech, upon the effective addresses of the moderns, without
lessening our admiration for the older school.