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1924_The Art of Public Speaking

4 THE S.RTURDAY EVENING POST April 26, 1924 The Speech is Supposed to be an Intellec• teal Performance, Not a Physical Feat Pew Things are More Distressing Than an Attempt at Humor by One Who Cannot Carry it Off Well artificial and unconvincing. Country-bred youth though I was, I could see that; and others, I found, thought the same. Not until my senior year did we have a professor of oratory. I got no instruction or training until then, and had to think out for myself the elements of the subject. So, finally, I concluded that the basis of public speaking is this: An audience is a composite person; therefore what will please, persuade or convince an individual will do the same with a collection of individuals. The only difference is that since an audience is larger, tone and gesture should be stronger, but only enough stronger to fill the eye and ear of that composite person. From this idea flow the rules of the art of public speaking which I shall presently state. Not until my twentieth year did I have an opportunity to hear a real orator, a master of the art; and that event confirmed the soundness of the theory set out above. In a Middle Western town where I then chanced to be—I was a book agent that summer— Col. Robert G. Ingersoll delivered one of his celebrated lectures. In every respect he was the reverse of the stump speakers described at the beginning of this article. In the first place, he was perfectly attired, freshly shaved, well groomed, neatly turned out in every particular. He came to the front of the platform in the most natural manner and, looking us in the eye in a friendly fashion, began to talk to us as if he were conversing with each of us personally. He stood still, made no gestures for a long time, and when they came at last they were seemingly so spontaneous and unstudied that we scarcely noticed them, so much a part of his spoken word did they appear to be. His gestures added to the force of his remarks. Only once did he show emotion, and then it was so appropriate, so obviously sincere, gestures so well expressing the physical reaction of his sentiments, that even this outburst was engaging. In short, everything about Colonel Ingersoll was pleasing, nothing was repellent—a prime requisite to the winning of a cordial hearing from any audience, big or little, rough or polite. Above all, he was the master of his subject—he knew all that was to be known about it at that time. Even the lilt of his rhetoric was made attractive; and be it said, in passing, that his blank-verse style was the only thing in the oratory of Colonel Ingersoll the good taste of which might, perhaps, be open to criticism. At any rate, considered exclusively from the point of view of oratory as an art and without reference to his opinions, Ingersoll was one of the four greatest public speakers America has produced—that is, one of the four greatest artists. If we are to credit tradition, the others were Daniel Webster, Wendell Phillips and Patrick Henry. In the case of Patrick Henry we deal with a genuine case of that misused and overworked word, genius. By means of his natural gifts Henry supplied all that example and study can give, although it is certain that he bestowed a great deal of thought upon the subject. Oratory as a Fine Art BEFORE taking up the basic rules, the observance of which constitutes the art of public speaking, we must get it firmly in mind and bear it in mind all the time that oratory is an art in the sense that music, painting, sculpture, and the like, are arts, or rather phases of art, since art is one and the same thing however manifested. • For art is the most finished expression of truth in its myriad aspects, with the least possible obstruction in that presentation, so that those who hear or look can get most clearly and easily the thing presented. It follows that art is the highest functioning of the mind and soul of man; and it follows, too, that it requires the utmost instruction, training and practice to become an artist of any kind. Take music, for example: Nobody would dare play upon the piano or any musical instrument without having studied not only that instrument but the elements of music. If possible, singing is even harder. Or take acting: Years of practice after correct teaching are essential to the making of the accomplished actor—one who performs so well that the auditor is made to feel that all is natural and without effort. Was it not Emerson who said that a company of the poorest professionals is better than a company of the best amateurs? Or painting! It would be absurd to attempt to produce a masterpiece on canvas without learning even the principles of drawing, to say nothing of having a knowledge of colors. But these essentials are only the A B C's of the education necessary to produce a good painting of any kind. And so with any phase of art whatever. Nobody would think of attempting it without information and training. For that matter, shoeing a horse, driving an automobile, laying brick, keeping books, running a furrow, selling goods—nearly everything requires knowledge and experi- ence. Yet, curiously enough, most of us feel that we can practice without knowledge or effort the two oldest and noblest of the fine arts, writing and speaking. For the purposes of this article the origin of this obsession, though interesting, is, perhaps, not impor- tant. It is enough to know that it is quite general. So, since public speak- ing is one of the two methods of shap- ing public opinion, let us look into the rules and principles of this art— rules and principles which the speaker must understand and obey as much as the musician, singer, actor, painter or sculptor must understand and obey those of his or her art. For public speaking is steadily becoming more important. New ideas are being advanced, some excellent, others unsound, the advocates of all striving to influence the public. The press has not and never can take the place of personal appeal; though justly influential, it is not decisive. So it is indispensable that leaders of opinion shall be able to state their views effectively by word of mouth. This is especially true of legislators and executives, particularly the latter, since they must present policies and plans to the people with clearness and force. Of course one must have some natural aptitude for speaking, just as is the case with singing, painting, writing, salesmanship, inventing or anything else. All the rules in the world and a lifetime of practice could not make a Fritz Kreisler into a Henry Ford, an Edison into a Paderewski, or a Theodore Roosevelt into a John D. Rockefeller. But, assuming the natural endowment, knowledge and practice of the rules of the art are indispensable to the making of the finished orator. Though the natural-born orator has advantages, any young man of average intelligence with uncommon in- dustry and determination can become an acceptable public speaker. But he must study and work hard to gain that end. If he does so, however, and keeps everlastingly at it, he will, at last, do better than one who has oratorical gifts and does not improve them. Shall we, then, consider what constitutes the art of public speaking? As to composition and structure of the speech, the rules of that art may be summarized thus: Speak only when you have something to say. Speak only what you believe to be true. Prepare thoroughly. Be clear. Stick to your subject. Be fair. Be brief. The maxims as to delivery can be stated more appropriately when we reach the discussion of that phase of speech making. So let us now take up the rules just mentioned. First of all, then, speak only when you have something to say. Be sure that you have a message to deliver. With reference to your subject, let your feeling be that of the inspired preacher, " Woe is me if I preach not the gospel." Have ever in mind Carlyle's dictum that nobody has a right to speak in public unless he is so charged with the subject and the time and occasion are so ripe for the hearing that every word will be fruitful of a deed—that is, conviction and action on the part of those who listen. Insincerity Fatal THIS means, of course, utter sincerity. Never under any circumstances or for any reward tell an audience what you yourself do not believe or are even indifferent about. To do so is immoral and worse—it is to be a public liar. Even from the lowest point of view, to speak against convictions or without convictions is fatal to the speaker; sooner or later the public gets on to the situation, and the speaker's influence is destroyed. Thereafter people may go to hear such a person, but they do so only to be amused and entertained, not for instruction and guidance. To the hearers the speaker has become nothing more than a play actor—not nearly so much, indeed, since the actor performs for entertainment as an exhibition of art, whereas the speaker described sails under false colors and is neither orator nor actor. Many years ago a distinguished speaker with rare oratorical gifts and thoroughly familiar with the mere technical rules of the art lost his public influence because he was seldom in earnest, and the idea of his insincerity became general. He was as inconstant as he was felicitous, had no principles, could argue on one side as ably as on the other, and often did- argue on both sides of a question. Moreover, he resorted to meretricious devices in delivery. For example: Once in a campaign he achieved a triumph before a great audience by answering aptly and well a difficult question put to him during his speech by a man who, seemingly, was merely one of his hearers. A commercial traveler who was present was so captivated that he went to hear the celebrated orator at a meeting some days later in another state; and at the same point in the same speech the same man asked the same question, which was answered in the same way. It turned out that the questioner was the speaker's secretary. Other incidents of the kind became known, all illustrative of trickery. The outcome of the whole matter—variableness, facility in wabbling, sensational devices—was that the public lost faith in this man's intellectual integrity and thereafter people went to hear him only to be diverted. (Continued on Page 146)


1924_The Art of Public Speaking
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