The Art of Public Speaking HTML version

However, 'tis expedient to be wary: Indifference, certes, don't produce distress; And rash enthusiasm in good
society Were nothing but a moral inebriety.
--BYRON, Don Juan.
You have attended plays that seemed fair, yet they did not move you, grip you. In theatrical parlance, they
failed to "get over," which means that their message did not get over the foot-lights to the audience. There was
no punch, no jab to them--they had no force.
Of course, all this spells disaster, in big letters, not only in a stage production but in any platform effort. Every
such presentation exists solely for the audience, and if it fails to hit them--and the expression is a good one--it
has no excuse for living; nor will it live long.
What is Force?
Some of our most obvious words open up secret meanings under scrutiny, and this is one of them.
To begin with, we must recognize the distinction between inner and outer force. The one is cause, the other
effect. The one is spiritual, the other physical. In this important particular, animate force differs from
inanimate force--the power of man, coming from within and expressing itself outwardly, is of another sort
from the force of Shimose powder, which awaits some influence from without to explode it. However
susceptive to outside stimuli, the true source of power in man lies within himself. This may seem like "mere
psychology," but it has an intensely practical bearing on public speaking, as will appear.
Not only must we discern the difference between human force and mere physical force, but we must not
confuse its real essence with some of the things that may--and may not--accompany it. For example, loudness
is not force, though force at times may be attended by noise. Mere roaring never made a good speech, yet
there are moments--moments, mind you, not minutes--when big voice power may be used with tremendous
Nor is violent motion force--yet force may result in violent motion. Hamlet counseled the players:
Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus; but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, and
(as I may say) whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance, that may give it
smoothness. Oh, it offends me to the soul, to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings[2]; who, for the most part, are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumb show, and noise. I would have such a fellow whipped for o'er-doing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod. Pray you avoid it.
Be not too tame, neither, but let your discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the
action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature; for anything so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first, and now, was, and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror
up to Nature, to show Virtue her own feature, Scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his
form and pressure. Now, this overdone, or come tardy off, though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but
make the judicious grieve; the censure of the which one must, in your allowance, o'erweigh a whole theater of
others. Oh, there be players that I have seen play--and heard others praise, and that highly--not to speak it
profanely, that, neither having the accent of Christians, nor the gait of Christian, pagan, or man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of Nature's journeymen had made men, and not made them