The Art of Public Speaking HTML version

Hear how he clears the points o' Faith Wi' rattlin' an' thumpin'! Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath, He's
stampin' an' he's jumpin'.
--ROBERT BURNS, Holy Fair.
The Latins have bequeathed to us a word that has no precise equivalent in our tongue, therefore we have
accepted it, body unchanged--it is the word tempo, and means rate of movement, as measured by the time
consumed in executing that movement.
Thus far its use has been largely limited to the vocal and musical arts, but it would not be surprising to hear
tempo applied to more concrete matters, for it perfectly illustrates the real meaning of the word to say that an
ox-cart moves in slow tempo, an express train in a fast tempo. Our guns that fire six hundred times a minute,
shoot at a fast tempo; the old muzzle loader that required three minutes to load, shot at a slow tempo. Every
musician understands this principle: it requires longer to sing a half note than it does an eighth note.
Now tempo is a tremendously important element in good platform work, for when a speaker delivers a whole
address at very nearly the same rate of speed he is depriving himself of one of his chief means of emphasis
and power. The baseball pitcher, the bowler in cricket, the tennis server, all know the value of change of
pace--change of tempo--in delivering their ball, and so must the public speaker observe its power.
Change of Tempo Lends Naturalness to the Delivery
Naturalness, or at least seeming naturalness, as was explained in the chapter on "Monotony," is greatly to be
desired, and a continual change of tempo will go a long way towards establishing it. Mr. Howard Lindsay,
Stage Manager for Miss Margaret Anglin, recently said to the present writer that change of pace was one of
the most effective tools of the actor. While it must be admitted that the stilted mouthings of many actors
indicate cloudy mirrors, still the public speaker would do well to study the actor's use of tempo.
There is, however, a more fundamental and effective source at which to study naturalness--a trait which, once
lost, is shy of recapture: that source is the common conversation of any well-bred circle. This is the standard
we strive to reach on both stage and platform--with certain differences, of course, which will appear as we go
on. If speaker and actor were to reproduce with absolute fidelity every variation of utterance--every whisper,
grunt, pause, silence, and explosion--of conversation as we find it typically in everyday life, much of the
interest would leave the public utterance. Naturalness in public address is something more than faithful
reproduction of nature--it is the reproduction of those typical parts of nature's work which are truly
representative of the whole.
The realistic story-writer understands this in writing dialogue, and we must take it into account in seeking for
naturalness through change of tempo.
Suppose you speak the first of the following sentences in a slow tempo, the second quickly, observing how
natural is the effect. Then speak both with the same rapidity and note the difference.
I can't recall what I did with my knife. Oh, now I remember I gave it to Mary.
We see here that a change of tempo often occurs in the same sentence--for tempo applies not only to single
words, groups of words, and groups of sentences, but to the major parts of a public speech as well.