The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
companions. When Schiller returned home after a visit with Goethe a friend remarked: "I am amazed by the
progress Schiller can make within a single fortnight." It was the progressive influence of a new friendship.
Proper friendships form one of the best means for the formation of ideas and ideals, for they enable one to
practise in giving expression to thought. The speaker who would speak fluently before an audience should
learn to speak fluently and entertainingly with a friend. Clarify your ideas by putting them in words; the talker
gains as much from his conversation as the listener. You sometimes begin to converse on a subject thinking
you have very little to say, but one idea gives birth to another, and you are surprised to learn that the more you
give the more you have to give. This give-and-take of friendly conversation develops mentality, and fluency
in expression. Longfellow said: "A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten
years' study of books," and Holmes whimsically yet none the less truthfully declared that half the time he
talked to find out what he thought. But that method must not be applied on the platform!
After all this enrichment of life by storage, must come the special preparation for the particular speech. This is
of so definite a sort that it warrants separate chapter-treatment later.
But preparation must also be of another sort than the gathering, organizing, and shaping of materials--it must
include practise, which, like mental preparation, must be both general and special.
Do not feel surprised or discouraged if practise on the principles of delivery herein laid down seems to retard
your fluency. For a time, this will be inevitable. While you are working for proper inflection, for instance,
inflection will be demanding your first thoughts, and the flow of your speech, for the time being, will be
secondary. This warning, however, is strictly for the closet, for your practise at home. Do not carry any
thoughts of inflection with you to the platform. There you must think only of your subject. There is an
absolute telepathy between the audience and the speaker. If your thought goes to your gesture, their thought
will too. If your interest goes to the quality of your voice, they will be regarding that instead of what your
voice is uttering.
You have doubtless been adjured to "forget everything but your subject." This advice says either too much or
too little. The truth is that while on the platform you must not forget a great many things that are not in your
subject, but you must not think of them. Your attention must consciously go only to your message, but
subconsciously you will be attending to the points of technique which have become more or less habitual by
A nice balance between these two kinds of attention is important.
You can no more escape this law than you can live without air: Your platform gestures, your voice, your
inflection, will all be just as good as your habit of gesture, voice, and inflection makes them--no better. Even
the thought of whether you are speaking fluently or not will have the effect of marring your flow of speech.
Return to the opening chapter, on self-confidence, and again lay its precepts to heart. Learn by rules to speak
without thinking of rules. It is not--or ought not to be--necessary for you to stop to think how to say the
alphabet correctly, as a matter of fact it is slightly more difficult for you to repeat Z, Y, X than it is to say X,
Y, Z--habit has established the order. Just so you must master the laws of efficiency in speaking until it is a
second nature for you to speak correctly rather than otherwise. A beginner at the piano has a great deal of
trouble with the mechanics of playing, but as time goes on his fingers become trained and almost instinctively
wander over the keys correctly. As an inexperienced speaker you will find a great deal of difficulty at first in
putting principles into practise, for you will be scared, like the young swimmer, and make some crude strokes,
but if you persevere you will "win out."
Thus, to sum up, the vocabulary you have enlarged by study, the ease in speaking you have developed by