The Art of Public Speaking HTML version

She hath prosperous art When she will play with reason and discourse, And well she can persuade.
--SHAKESPEARE, Measure for Measure.
Him we call an artist who shall play on an assembly of men as a master on the keys of a piano,--who seeing
the people furious, shall soften and compose them, shall draw them, when he will, to laughter and to tears.
Bring him to his audience, and, be they who they may,--coarse or refined, pleased or displeased, sulky or
savage, with their opinions in the keeping of a confessor or with their opinions in their bank safes,--he will
have them pleased and humored as he chooses; and they shall carry and execute what he bids them.
--RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Essay on Eloquence.
More good and more ill have been effected by persuasion than by any other form of speech. It is an attempt to
influence by means of appeal to some particular interest held important by the hearer. Its motive may be high
or low, fair or unfair, honest or dishonest, calm or passionate, and hence its scope is unparalleled in public
This "instilment of conviction," to use Matthew Arnold's expression, is naturally a complex process in that it
usually includes argumentation and often employs suggestion, as the next chapter will illustrate. In fact, there
is little public speaking worthy of the name that is not in some part persuasive, for men rarely speak solely to
alter men's opinions--the ulterior purpose is almost always action.
The nature of persuasion is not solely intellectual, but is largely emotional. It uses every principle of public
speaking, and every "form of discourse," to use a rhetorician's expression, but argument supplemented by
special appeal is its peculiar quality. This we may best see by examining
The Methods of Persuasion
High-minded speakers often seek to move their hearers to action by an appeal to their highest motives, such as
love of liberty. Senator Hoar, in pleading for action on the Philippine question, used this method:
What has been the practical statesmanship which comes from your ideals and your sentimentalities? You have
wasted nearly six hundred millions of treasure. You have sacrificed nearly ten thousand American lives--the
flower of our youth. You have devastated provinces. You have slain uncounted thousands of the people you
desire to benefit. You have established reconcentration camps. Your generals are coming home from their
harvest bringing sheaves with them, in the shape of other thousands of sick and wounded and insane to drag
out miserable lives, wrecked in body and mind. You make the American flag in the eyes of a numerous people
the emblem of sacrilege in Christian churches, and of the burning of human dwellings, and of the horror of the
water torture. Your practical statesmanship which disdains to take George Washington and Abraham Lincoln
or the soldiers of the Revolution or of the Civil War as models, has looked in some cases to Spain for your
example. I believe--nay, I know--that in general our officers and soldiers are humane. But in some cases they
have carried on your warfare with a mixture of American ingenuity and Castilian cruelty.
Your practical statesmanship has succeeded in converting a people who three years ago were ready to kiss the
hem of the garment of the American and to welcome him as a liberator, who thronged after your men, when
they landed on those islands, with benediction and gratitude, into sullen and irreconcilable enemies, possessed
of a hatred which centuries cannot eradicate.