The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
EFFICIENCY THROUGH EMPHASIS AND SUBORDINATION
In a word, the principle of emphasis...is followed best, not by remembering particular rules, but by being full
of a particular feeling.
--C.S. BALDWIN, Writing and Speaking.
The gun that scatters too much does not bag the birds. The same principle applies to speech. The speaker that
fires his force and emphasis at random into a sentence will not get results. Not every word is of special
importance--therefore only certain words demand emphasis.
You say MassaCHUsetts and MinneAPolis, you do not emphasize each syllable alike, but hit the accented
syllable with force and hurry over the unimportant ones. Now why do you not apply this principle in speaking
a sentence? To some extent you do, in ordinary speech; but do you in public discourse? It is there that
monotony caused by lack of emphasis is so painfully apparent.
So far as emphasis is concerned, you may consider the average sentence as just one big word, with the
important word as the accented syllable. Note the following:
"Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice."
You might as well say MASS-A-CHU-SETTS, emphasizing every syllable equally, as to lay equal stress on
each word in the foregoing sentences.
Speak it aloud and see. Of course you will want to emphasize destiny, for it is the principal idea in your
declaration, and you will put some emphasis on not, else your hearers may think you are affirming that destiny
is a matter of chance. By all means you must emphasize chance, for it is one of the two big ideas in the
Another reason why chance takes emphasis is that it is contrasted with choice in the next sentence. Obviously,
the author has contrasted these ideas purposely, so that they might be more emphatic, and here we see that
contrast is one of the very first devices to gain emphasis.
As a public speaker you can assist this emphasis of contrast with your voice. If you say, "My horse is not
black," what color immediately comes into mind? White, naturally, for that is the opposite of black. If you
wish to bring out the thought that destiny is a matter of choice, you can do so more effectively by first saying
that "DESTINY is NOT a matter of CHANCE." Is not the color of the horse impressed upon us more
emphatically when you say, "My horse is NOT BLACK. He is WHITE" than it would be by hearing you assert
merely that your horse is white?
In the second sentence of the statement there is only one important word--choice. It is the one word that
positively defines the quality of the subject being discussed, and the author of those lines desired to bring it
out emphatically, as he has shown by contrasting it with another idea. These lines, then, would read like this:
"DESTINY is NOT a matter of CHANCE. It is a matter of CHOICE." Now read this over, striking the words in
capitals with a great deal of force.
In almost every sentence there are a few MOUNTAIN PEAK WORDS that represent the big, important ideas.
When you pick up the evening paper you can tell at a glance which are the important news articles. Thanks to
the editor, he does not tell about a "hold up" in Hong Kong in the same sized type as he uses to report the