The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
INFLUENCING THE CROWD
Success in business, in the last analysis, turns upon touching the imagination of crowds. The reason that
preachers in this present generation are less successful in getting people to want goodness than business men
are in getting them to want motorcars, hats, and pianolas, is that business men as a class are more close and
desperate students of human nature, and have boned down harder to the art of touching the imaginations of the
--GERALD STANLEY LEE, Crowds.
In the early part of July, 1914, a collection of Frenchmen in Paris, or Germans in Berlin, was not a crowd in a
psychological sense. Each individual had his own special interests and needs, and there was no powerful
common idea to unify them. A group then represented only a collection of individuals. A month later, any
collection of Frenchmen or Germans formed a crowd: Patriotism, hate, a common fear, a pervasive grief, had
unified the individuals.
The psychology of the crowd is far different from the psychology of the personal members that compose it.
The crowd is a distinct entity. Individuals restrain and subdue many of their impulses at the dictates of reason.
The crowd never reasons. It only feels. As persons there is a sense of responsibility attached to our actions
which checks many of our incitements, but the sense of responsibility is lost in the crowd because of its
numbers. The crowd is exceedingly suggestible and will act upon the wildest and most extreme ideas. The
crowd-mind is primitive and will cheer plans and perform actions which its members would utterly repudiate.
A mob is only a highly-wrought crowd. Ruskin's description is fitting: "You can talk a mob into anything; its
feelings may be--usually are--on the whole, generous and right, but it has no foundation for them, no hold of
them. You may tease or tickle it into anything at your pleasure. It thinks by infection, for the most part,
catching an opinion like a cold, and there is nothing so little that it will not roar itself wild about, when the fit
is on, nothing so great but it will forget in an hour when the fit is past."
History will show us how the crowd-mind works. The medieval mind was not given to reasoning; the
medieval man attached great weight to the utterance of authority; his religion touched chiefly the emotions.
These conditions provided a rich soil for the propagation of the crowd-mind when, in the eleventh century,
flagellation, a voluntary self-scourging, was preached by the monks. Substituting flagellation for reciting
penitential psalms was advocated by the reformers. A scale was drawn up, making one thousand strokes
equivalent to ten psalms, or fifteen thousand to the entire psalter. This craze spread by leaps--and crowds.
Flagellant fraternities sprang up. Priests carrying banners led through the streets great processions reciting
prayers and whipping their bloody bodies with leathern thongs fitted with four iron points. Pope Clement
denounced this practise and several of the leaders of these processions had to be burned at the stake before the
frenzy could be uprooted.
All western and central Europe was turned into a crowd by the preaching of the crusaders, and millions of the
followers of the Prince of Peace rushed to the Holy Land to kill the heathen. Even the children started on a
crusade against the Saracens. The mob-spirit was so strong that home affections and persuasion could not
prevail against it and thousands of mere babes died in their attempts to reach and redeem the Sacred
In the early part of the eighteenth century the South Sea Company was formed in England. Britain became a
speculative crowd. Stock in the South Sea Company rose from 128-1/2 points in January to 550 in May, and
scored 1,000 in July. Five million shares were sold at this premium. Speculation ran riot. Hundreds of
companies were organized. One was formed "for a wheel of perpetual motion." Another never troubled to