The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
THOUGHT AND RESERVE POWER
Providence is always on the side of the last reserve.
So mightiest powers by deepest calms are fed, And sleep, how oft, in things that gentlest be!
--BARRY CORNWALL, The Sea in Calm.
What would happen if you should overdraw your bank account? As a rule the check would be protested; but if
you were on friendly terms with the bank, your check might be honored, and you would be called upon to
make good the overdraft.
Nature has no such favorites, therefore extends no credits. She is as relentless as a gasoline tank--when the
"gas" is all used the machine stops. It is as reckless for a speaker to risk going before an audience without
having something in reserve as it is for the motorist to essay a long journey in the wilds without enough
gasoline in sight.
But in what does a speaker's reserve power consist? In a well-founded reliance on his general and particular
grasp of his subject; in the quality of being alert and resourceful in thought--particularly in the ability to think
while on his feet; and in that self-possession which makes one the captain of all his own forces, bodily and
The first of these elements, adequate preparation, and the last, self-reliance, were discussed fully in the
chapters on "Self-Confidence" and "Fluency," so they will be touched only incidentally here; besides, the next
chapter will take up specific methods of preparation for public speaking. Therefore the central theme of this
chapter is the second of the elements of reserve power--Thought.
The Mental Storehouse
An empty mind, like an empty larder, may be a serious matter or not--all will depend on the available
resources. If there is no food in the cupboard the housewife does not nervously rattle the empty dishes; she
telephones the grocer. If you have no ideas, do not rattle your empty ers and ahs, but get some ideas, and don't
speak until you do get them.
This, however, is not being what the old New England housekeeper used to call "forehanded." The real
solution of the problem of what to do with an empty head is never to let it become empty. In the artesian wells
of Dakota the water rushes to the surface and leaps a score of feet above the ground. The secret of this
exuberant flow is of course the great supply below, crowding to get out.
What is the use of stopping to prime a mental pump when you can fill your life with the resources for an
artesian well? It is not enough to have merely enough; you must have more than enough. Then the pressure of
your mass of thought and feeling will maintain your flow of speech and give you the confidence and poise
that denote reserve power. To be away from home with only the exact return fare leaves a great deal to
Reserve power is magnetic. It does not consist in giving the idea that you are holding something in reserve,
but rather in the suggestion that the audience is getting the cream of your observation, reading, experience,
feeling, thought. To have reserve power, therefore, you must have enough milk of material on hand to supply