The Art of Public Speaking HTML version

Enthusiasm is that secret and harmonious spirit that hovers over the production of genius.
--ISAAC DISRAELI, Literary Character.
If you are addressing a body of scientists on such a subject as the veins in a butterfly's wings, or on road
structure, naturally your theme will not arouse much feeling in either you or your audience. These are purely
mental subjects. But if you want men to vote for a measure that will abolish child labor, or if you would
inspire them to take up arms for freedom, you must strike straight at their feelings. We lie on soft beds, sit
near the radiator on a cold day, eat cherry pie, and devote our attention to one of the opposite sex, not because
we have reasoned out that it is the right thing to do, but because it feels right. No one but a dyspeptic chooses
his diet from a chart. Our feelings dictate what we shall eat and generally how we shall act. Man is a feeling
animal, hence the public speaker's ability to arouse men to action depends almost wholly on his ability to
touch their emotions.
Negro mothers on the auction-block seeing their children sold away from them into slavery have flamed out
some of America's most stirring speeches. True, the mother did not have any knowledge of the technique of
speaking, but she had something greater than all technique, more effective than reason: feeling. The great
speeches of the world have not been delivered on tariff reductions or post-office appropriations. The speeches
that will live have been charged with emotional force. Prosperity and peace are poor developers of eloquence.
When great wrongs are to be righted, when the public heart is flaming with passion, that is the occasion for
memorable speaking. Patrick Henry made an immortal address, for in an epochal crisis he pleaded for liberty.
He had roused himself to the point where he could honestly and passionately exclaim, "Give me liberty or
give me death." His fame would have been different had he lived to-day and argued for the recall of judges.
The Power of Enthusiasm
Political parties hire bands, and pay for applause--they argue that, for vote-getting, to stir up enthusiasm is
more effective than reasoning. How far they are right depends on the hearers, but there can be no doubt about
the contagious nature of enthusiasm. A watch manufacturer in New York tried out two series of watch
advertisements; one argued the superior construction, workmanship, durability, and guarantee offered with the
watch; the other was headed, "A Watch to be Proud of," and dwelt upon the pleasure and pride of ownership.
The latter series sold twice as many as the former. A salesman for a locomotive works informed the writer that
in selling railroad engines emotional appeal was stronger than an argument based on mechanical excellence.
Illustrations without number might be cited to show that in all our actions we are emotional beings. The
speaker who would speak efficiently must develop the power to arouse feeling.
Webster, great debater that he was, knew that the real secret of a speaker's power was an emotional one. He
eloquently says of eloquence:
"Affected passion, intense expression, the pomp of declamation, all may aspire after it; they cannot reach it. It
comes, if it come at all, like the outbreak of a fountain from the earth, or the bursting forth of volcanic fires,
with spontaneous, original, native force.
"The graces taught in the schools, the costly ornaments and studied contrivances of speech, shock and disgust
men, when their own lives, and the fate of their wives, their children, and their country hang on the decision of
the hour. Then words have lost their power, rhetoric is in vain, and all elaborate oratory contemptible. Even
genius itself then feels rebuked and subdued, as in the presence of higher qualities. Then patriotism is