The Art of Public Speaking Part 13

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CONNOTATIVE words, those that suggest more than they say, have more power than ordinary words--"She _let_ herself be married" expresses more than "She _married_."

EPITHETS, figuratively descriptive words, are more effective than direct names--"Go tell that _old fox_," has more "punch" than "Go tell that _sly fellow_." ONOMATOPOETIC words, words that convey the sense by the sound, are more powerful than other words--_crash_ is more effective than _cataclysm_.

_Arrangement of words_

Cut out modifiers.

Cut out connectives.

Begin with words that demand attention.

"End with words that deserve distinction," says Prof. Barrett Wendell.

Set strong ideas over against weaker ones, so as to gain strength by the contrast.

Avoid elaborate sentence structure--short sentences are stronger than long ones.

Cut out every useless word, so as to give prominence to the really important ones.

Let each sentence be a condensed battering ram, swinging to its final blow on the attention.

A familiar, homely idiom, if not worn by much use, is more effective than a highly formal, scholarly expression.

Consider well the relative value of different positions in the sentence so that you may give the prominent place to ideas you wish to emphasize.

"But," says someone, "is it not more honest to depend the inherent interest in a subject, its native truth, clearness and sincerity of presentation, and beauty of utterance, to win your audience? Why not charm men instead of capturing them by a.s.sault?"

_Why Use Force?_

There is much truth in such an appeal, but not all the truth.

Clearness, persuasion, beauty, simple statement of truth, are all essential--indeed, they are all definite parts of a forceful presentment of a subject, without being the only parts. Strong meat may not be as attractive as ices, but all depends on the appet.i.te and the stage of the meal.

You can not deliver an aggressive message with caressing little strokes.

No! Jab it in with hard, swift solar plexus punches. You cannot strike fire from flint or from an audience with love taps. Say to a crowded theatre in a lackadaisical manner: "It seems to me that the house is on fire," and your announcement may be greeted with a laugh. If you flash out the words: "The house's on fire!" they will crush one another in getting to the exits.

The spirit and the language of force are definite with conviction. No immortal speech in literature contains such expressions as "it seems to me," "I should judge," "in my opinion," "I suppose," "perhaps it is true." The speeches that will live have been delivered by men ablaze with the courage of their convictions, who uttered their words as eternal truth. Of Jesus it was said that "the common people heard Him gladly." Why? "He taught them as one having _AUTHORITY_." An audience will never be moved by what "seems" to you to be truth or what in your "humble opinion" may be so. If you honestly can, a.s.sert convictions as your conclusions. Be sure you are right before you speak your speech, then utter your thoughts as though they were a Gibraltar of unimpeachable _truth_. Deliver them with the iron hand and confidence of a Cromwell. a.s.sert them with the fire of _authority_. p.r.o.nounce them as an _ultimatum_. If you cannot speak with conviction, be silent.

What force did that young minister have who, fearing to be too dogmatic, thus exhorted his hearers: "My friends--as I a.s.sume that you are--it appears to be my duty to tell you that if you do not repent, so to speak, forsake your sins, as it were, and turn to righteousness, if I may so express it, you will be lost, in a measure"?

Effective speech must reflect the era. This is not a rose water age, and a tepid, half-hearted speech will not win. This is the century of trip hammers, of overland expresses that dash under cities and through mountain tunnels, and you must instill this spirit into your speech if you would move a popular audience. From a front seat listen to a first-cla.s.s company present a modern Broadway drama--not a comedy, but a gripping, thrilling drama. Do not become absorbed in the story; reserve all your attention for the technique and the force of the acting. There is a kick and a crash as well as an infinitely subtle intensity in the big, climax-speeches that suggest this lesson: the same well-calculated, restrained, delicately shaded force would simply _rivet_ your ideas in the minds of your audience. An air-gun will rattle bird-shot against a window pane--it takes a rifle to wing a bullet through plate gla.s.s and the oaken walls beyond.

_When to Use Force_

An audience is unlike the kingdom of heaven--the violent do not always take it by force. There are times when beauty and serenity should be the only bells in your chime. Force is only one of the great extremes of contrast--use neither it nor quiet utterance to the exclusion of other tones: be various, and in variety find even greater force than you could attain by attempting its constant use. If you are reading an essay on the beauties of the dawn, talking about the dainty bloom of a honey-suckle, or explaining the mechanism of a gas engine, a vigorous style of delivery is entirely out of place. But when you are appealing to wills and consciences for immediate action, forceful delivery wins.

In such cases, consider the minds of your audience as so many safes that have been locked and the keys lost. Do not try to figure out the combinations. Pour a little nitro glycerine into the cracks and light the fuse. As these lines are being written a contractor down the street is clearing away the rocks with dynamite to lay the foundations for a great building. When you want to get action, do not fear to use dynamite.

The final argument for the effectiveness of force in public speech is the fact that everything must be enlarged for the purposes of the platform--that is why so few speeches read well in the reports on the morning after: statements appear crude and exaggerated because they are unaccompanied by the forceful delivery of a glowing speaker before an audience heated to attentive enthusiasm. So in preparing your speech you must not err on the side of mild statement--your audience will inevitably tone down your words in the cold grey of afterthought. When Phidias was criticised for the rough, bold outlines of a figure he had submitted in compet.i.tion, he smiled and asked that his statue and the one wrought by his rival should be set upon the column for which the sculpture was destined. When this was done all the exaggerations and crudities, toned by distances, melted into exquisite grace of line and form. Each speech must be a special study in suitability and proportion.

Omit the thunder of delivery, if you will, but like Wendell Phillips put "silent lightning" into your speech. Make your thoughts breathe and your words burn. Birrell said: "Emerson writes like an electrical cat emitting sparks and shocks in every sentence." Go thou and speak likewise. Get the "big stick" into your delivery--be forceful.


1. Ill.u.s.trate, by repeating a sentence from memory, what is meant by employing force in speaking.

2. Which in your opinion is the most important of the technical principles of speaking that you have studied so far? Why?

3. What is the effect of too much force in a speech? Too little?

4. Note some uninteresting conversation or ineffective speech, and tell why it failed.

5. Suggest how it might be improved.

6. Why do speeches have to be spoken with more force than do conversations?

7. Read aloud the selection on page 84, using the technical principles outlined in chapters III to VIII, but neglect to put any force behind the interpretation. What is the result?

8. Reread several times, doing your best to achieve force.

9. Which parts of the selection on page 84 require the most force?

10. Write a five-minute speech not only discussing the errors of those who exaggerate and those who minimize the use of force, but by imitation show their weaknesses. Do not burlesque, but closely imitate.

11. Give a list of ten themes for public addresses, saying which seem most likely to require the frequent use of force in delivery.

12. In your own opinion, do speakers usually err from the use of too much or too little force?

13. Define (a) bombast; (b) bathos; (c) sentimentality; (d) squeamish.

14. Say how the foregoing words describe weaknesses in public speech.

15. Recast in twentieth-century English "Hamlet's Directions to the Players," page 88.

16. Memorize the following extracts from Wendell Phillips' speeches, and deliver them with the of Wendell Phillips' "silent lightning" delivery.

We are for a revolution! We say in behalf of these hunted lyings, whom G.o.d created, and who law-abiding Webster and Winthrop have sworn shall not find shelter in Ma.s.sachusetts,--we say that they may make their little motions, and pa.s.s their little laws in Washington, but that Faneuil Hall repeals them in the name of humanity and the old Bay State!

My advice to workingmen is this:

If you want power in this country; if you want to make yourselves felt; if you do not want your children to wait long years before they have the bread on the table they ought to have, the leisure in their lives they ought to have, the opportunities in life they ought to have; if you don't want to wait yourselves,--write on your banner, so that every political trimmer can read it, so that every politician, no matter how short-sighted he may be, can read it, "_WE NEVER FORGET!_ If you launch the arrow of sarcasm at labor, _WE NEVER FORGET!_ If there is a division in Congress, and you throw your vote in the wrong scale, _WE NEVER FORGET!_ You may go down on your knees, and say, 'I am sorry I did the act'--but we will say '_IT WILL AVAIL YOU IN HEAVEN TO BE SORRY, BUT ON THIS SIDE OF THE GRAVE, NEVER!_'" So that a man in taking up the labor question will know he is dealing with a hair-trigger pistol, and will say, "I am to be true to justice and to man; otherwise I am a dead duck."

In Russia there is no press, no debate, no explanation of what government does, no remonstrance allowed, no agitation of public issues. Dead silence, like that which reigns at the summit of Mont Blanc, freezes the whole empire, long ago described as "a despotism tempered by a.s.sa.s.sination." Meanwhile, such despotism has unsettled the brains of the ruling family, as unbridled power doubtless made some of the twelve Caesars insane; a madman, sporting with the lives and comfort of a hundred millions of men. The young girl whispers in her mother's ear, under a ceiled roof, her pity for a brother knouted and dragged half dead into exile for his opinions. The next week she is stripped naked and flogged to death in the public square. No inquiry, no explanation, no trial, no protest, one dead uniform silence, the law of the tyrant. Where is there ground for any hope of peaceful change? No, no! in such a land dynamite and the dagger are the necessary and proper subst.i.tutes for Faneuil Hall.

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The Art of Public Speaking Part 13 summary

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