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The Art of Public Speaking

CHAPTER XXXI
189
language is no longer used to conceal thought.
We may frequently gain new light on old subjects by looking at word-derivations. Conversation signifies in
the original a turn-about exchange of ideas, yet most people seem to regard it as a monologue. Bronson Alcott
used to say that many could argue, but few converse. The first thing to remember in conversation, then, is that
listening--respectful, sympathetic, alert listening--is not only due to our fellow converser but due to ourselves.
Many a reply loses its point because the speaker is so much interested in what he is about to say that it is
really no reply at all but merely an irritating and humiliating irrelevancy.
Self-expression is exhilarating. This explains the eternal impulse to decorate totem poles and paint pictures,
write poetry and expound philosophy. One of the chief delights of conversation is the opportunity it affords
for self-expression. A good conversationalist who monopolizes all the conversation, will be voted a bore
because he denies others the enjoyment of self-expression, while a mediocre talker who listens interestedly
may be considered a good conversationalist because he permits his companions to please themselves through
self-expression. They are praised who please: they please who listen well.
The first step in remedying habits of confusion in manner, awkward bearing, vagueness in thought, and lack
of precision in utterance, is to recognize your faults. If you are serenely unconscious of them, no one--least of
all yourself--can help you. But once diagnose your own weaknesses, and you can overcome them by doing
four things:
1. WILL to overcome them, and keep on willing.
2. Hold yourself in hand by assuring yourself that you know precisely what you ought to say. If you cannot do
that, be quiet until you are clear on this vital point.
3. Having thus assured yourself, cast out the fear of those who listen to you--they are only human and will
respect your words if you really have something to say and say it briefly, simply, and clearly.
4. Have the courage to study the English language until you are master of at least its simpler forms.
Conversational Hints
Choose some subject that will prove of general interest to the whole group. Do not explain the mechanism of a
gas engine at an afternoon tea or the culture of hollyhocks at a stag party.
It is not considered good taste for a man to bare his arm in public and show scars or deformities. It is equally
bad form for him to flaunt his own woes, or the deformity of some one else's character. The public demands
plays and stories that end happily. All the world is seeking happiness. They cannot long be interested in your
ills and troubles. George Cohan made himself a millionaire before he was thirty by writing cheerful plays.
One of his rules is generally applicable to conversation: "Always leave them laughing when you say good
bye."
Dynamite the "I" out of your conversation. Not one man in nine hundred and seven can talk about himself
without being a bore. The man who can perform that feat can achieve marvels without talking about himself,
so the eternal "I" is not permissible even in his talk.
If you habitually build your conversation around your own interests it may prove very tiresome to your
listener. He may be thinking of bird dogs or dry fly fishing while you are discussing the fourth dimension, or
the merits of a cucumber lotion. The charming conversationalist is prepared to talk in terms of his listener's
interest. If his listener spends his spare time investigating Guernsey cattle or agitating social reforms, the
discriminating conversationalist shapes his remarks accordingly. Richard Washburn Child says he knows a
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