The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
THE SIN OF MONOTONY
One day Ennui was born from Uniformity.
Our English has changed with the years so that many words now connote more than they did originally. This
is true of the word monotonous. From "having but one tone," it has come to mean more broadly, "lack of
The monotonous speaker not only drones along in the same volume and pitch of tone but uses always the
same emphasis, the same speed, the same thoughts--or dispenses with thought altogether.
Monotony, the cardinal and most common sin of the public speaker, is not a transgression--it is rather a sin of
omission, for it consists in living up to the confession of the Prayer Book: "We have left undone those things
we ought to have done."
Emerson says, "The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing
variety." That is just what the monotonous speaker fails to do--he does not detach one thought or phrase from
another, they are all expressed in the same manner.
To tell you that your speech is monotonous may mean very little to you, so let us look at the nature--and the
curse--of monotony in other spheres of life, then we shall appreciate more fully how it will blight an otherwise
If the Victrola in the adjoining apartment grinds out just three selections over and over again, it is pretty safe
to assume that your neighbor has no other records. If a speaker uses only a few of his powers, it points very
plainly to the fact that the rest of his powers are not developed. Monotony reveals our limitations.
In its effect on its victim, monotony is actually deadly--it will drive the bloom from the cheek and the lustre
from the eye as quickly as sin, and often leads to viciousness. The worst punishment that human ingenuity has
ever been able to invent is extreme monotony--solitary confinement. Lay a marble on the table and do nothing
eighteen hours of the day but change that marble from one point to another and back again, and you will go
insane if you continue long enough.
So this thing that shortens life, and is used as the most cruel of punishments in our prisons, is the thing that
will destroy all the life and force of a speech. Avoid it as you would shun a deadly dull bore. The "idle rich"
can have half-a-dozen homes, command all the varieties of foods gathered from the four corners of the earth,
and sail for Africa or Alaska at their pleasure; but the poverty-stricken man must walk or take a street car--he
does not have the choice of yacht, auto, or special train. He must spend the most of his life in labor and be
content with the staples of the food-market. Monotony is poverty, whether in speech or in life. Strive to
increase the variety of your speech as the business man labors to augment his wealth.
Bird-songs, forest glens, and mountains are not monotonous--it is the long rows of brown-stone fronts and the
miles of paved streets that are so terribly same. Nature in her wealth gives us endless variety; man with his
limitations is often monotonous. Get back to nature in your methods of speech-making.
The power of variety lies in its pleasure-giving quality. The great truths of the world have often been couched
in fascinating stories--"Les Miserables," for instance. If you wish to teach or influence men, you must please
them, first or last. Strike the same note on the piano over and over again. This will give you some idea of the