The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
SUBJECT AND PREPARATION
Suit your topics to your strength, And ponder well your subject, and its length; Nor lift your load, before
you're quite aware What weight your shoulders will, or will not, bear.
--BYRON, Hints from Horace.
Look to this day, for it is life--the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your
existence: the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty. For yesterday is already a dream and
tomorrow is only a vision; but today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every
tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day. Such is the salutation of the dawn.
--From the Sanskrit.
In the chapter preceding we have seen the influence of "Thought and Reserve Power" on general preparedness
for public speech. But preparation consists in something more definite than the cultivation of thought-power,
whether from original or from borrowed sources--it involves a specifically acquisitive attitude of the whole
life. If you would become a full soul you must constantly take in and assimilate, for in that way only may you
hope to give out that which is worth the hearing; but do not confuse the acquisition of general information
with the mastery of specific knowledge. Information consists of a fact or a group of facts; knowledge is
organized information--knowledge knows a fact in relation to other facts.
Now the important thing here is that you should set all your faculties to take in the things about you with the
particular object of correlating them and storing them for use in public speech. You must hear with the
speaker's ear, see with the speaker's eye, and choose books and companions and sights and sounds with the
speaker's purpose in view. At the same time, be ready to receive unplanned-for knowledge. One of the
fascinating elements in your life as a public speaker will be the conscious growth in power that casual daily
experiences bring. If your eyes are alert you will be constantly discovering facts, illustrations, and ideas
without having set out in search of them. These all may be turned to account on the platform; even the leaden
events of hum-drum daily life may be melted into bullets for future battles.
Conservation of Time in Preparation
But, you say, I have so little time for preparation--my mind must be absorbed by other matters. Daniel
Webster never let an opportunity pass to gather material for his speeches. When he was a boy working in a
sawmill he read out of a book in one hand and busied himself at some mechanical task with the other. In youth
Patrick Henry roamed the fields and woods in solitude for days at a time unconsciously gathering material and
impressions for his later service as a speaker. Dr. Russell H. Conwell, the man who, the late Charles A. Dana
said, had addressed more hearers than any living man, used to memorize long passages from Milton while
tending the boiling syrup-pans in the silent New England woods at night. The modern employer would
discharge a Webster of today for inattention to duty, and doubtless he would be justified, and Patrick Henry
seemed only an idle chap even in those easy-going days; but the truth remains: those who take in power and
have the purpose to use it efficiently will some day win to the place in which that stored-up power will
revolve great wheels of influence.
Napoleon said that quarter hours decide the destinies of nations. How many quarter hours do we let drift by
aimlessly! Robert Louis Stevenson conserved all his time; every experience became capital for his work--for
capital may be defined as "the results of labor stored up to assist future production." He continually tried to
put into suitable language the scenes and actions that were in evidence about him. Emerson says: "Tomorrow
will be like today. Life wastes itself whilst we are preparing to live."