The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
The extreme force of this influence is demonstrated in hypnotism. The hypnotic subject is told that he is in the
water; he accepts the statement as true and makes swimming motions. He is told that a band is marching down
the street, playing "The Star Spangled Banner;" he declares he hears the music, arises and stands with head
In the same way some speakers are able to achieve a modified hypnotic effect upon their audiences. The
hearers will applaud measures and ideas which, after individual reflection, they will repudiate unless such
reflection brings the conviction that the first impression is correct.
A second important principle is that our feelings, thoughts and wills tend to follow the line of least resistance.
Once open the mind to the sway of one feeling and it requires a greater power of feeling, thought, or will--or
even all three--to unseat it. Our feelings influence our judgments and volitions much more than we care to
admit. So true is this that it is a superhuman task to get an audience to reason fairly on a subject on which it
feels deeply, and when this result is accomplished the success becomes noteworthy, as in the case of Henry
Ward Beecher's Liverpool speech. Emotional ideas once accepted are soon cherished, and finally become our
very inmost selves. Attitudes based on feelings alone are prejudices.
What is true of our feelings, in this respect, applies to our ideas: All thoughts that enter the mind tend to be
accepted as truth unless a stronger and contradictory thought arises.
The speaker skilled in moving men to action manages to dominate the minds of his audience with his thoughts
by subtly prohibiting the entertaining of ideas hostile to his own. Most of us are captured by the latest strong
attack, and if we can be induced to act while under the stress of that last insistent thought, we lose sight of
counter influences. The fact is that almost all our decisions--if they involve thought at all--are of this sort: At
the moment of decision the course of action then under contemplation usurps the attention, and conflicting
ideas are dropped out of consideration.
The head of a large publishing house remarked only recently that ninety per cent of the people who bought
books by subscription never read them. They buy because the salesman presents his wares so skillfully that
every consideration but the attractiveness of the book drops out of the mind, and that thought prompts action.
Every idea that enters the mind will result in action unless a contradictory thought arises to prohibit it. Think
of singing the musical scale and it will result in your singing it unless the counter-thought of its futility or
absurdity inhibits your action. If you bandage and "doctor" a horse's foot, he will go lame. You cannot think
of swallowing, without the muscles used in that process being affected. You cannot think of saying "hello,"
without a slight movement of the muscles of speech. To warn children that they should not put beans up their
noses is the surest method of getting them to do it. Every thought called up in the mind of your audience will
work either for or against you. Thoughts are not dead matter; they radiate dynamic energy--the thoughts all
tend to pass into action. "Thought is another name for fate." Dominate your hearers' thoughts, allay all
contradictory ideas, and you will sway them as you wish.
Volitions as well as feelings and thoughts tend to follow the line of least resistance. That is what makes habit.
Suggest to a man that it is impossible to change his mind and in most cases it becomes more difficult to do
so--the exception is the man who naturally jumps to the contrary. Counter suggestion is the only way to reach
him. Suggest subtly and persistently that the opinions of those in the audience who are opposed to your views
are changing, and it requires an effort of the will--in fact, a summoning of the forces of feeling, thought and
will--to stem the tide of change that has subconsciously set in.
But, not only are we moved by authority, and tend toward channels of least resistance: We are all influenced
by our environments. It is difficult to rise above the sway of a crowd--its enthusiasms and its fears are
contagious because they are suggestive. What so many feel, we say to ourselves, must have some basis in
truth. Ten times ten makes more than one hundred. Set ten men to speaking to ten audiences of ten men each,
and compare the aggregate power of those ten speakers with that of one man addressing one hundred men.