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LETTER XXXIII.

PUBLIC SPEAKING.

how

ideas upon

You may now make your first attempt to speak in public

If possible, select the occasion. Do not trust yourself to say something about anything—which usually amounts to saying nothing—but avail yourself of the discussion of some subject to which you have given some thought, and on which you can say something.

Turn the subject over in your mind; think how you shall treat it—what general view you can take of it; you shall arrange your

it so that they may be presented in orderly array, and connected link by link into a chain of argument.

Having planned it roughly in thought, put your plan upon paper.

But only in outline. Do not provide the words; note down nothing but the subjects to be treated, with the order of treatment. Trust entirely to the impulse of the moment to provide words wherein to express your thoughts; but let those thoughts be firmly fixed in your memory.

Some famous orators are accustomed, in addition to this outline of the argument, to compose the peroration and recite it from memory. It is, however, a question of doubtful expediency at all times, and I would especially counsel you, as a beginner, not to resort to it.

There are many objections to a written speech. In the first place, you are dependent upon your memory, and if that should fail, your discomfiture is completeyou break down altogether! Few memories are so perfect as to preserve their power when the mind is otherwise disturbed. The fear of failure is very likely to be the cause of failure. A single word forgotten causes alarm and hesitation, and while you are trying to recall that word, others fade away, and in the accumulated confusion a whole sentence disappears. You hesitate, you stammer, you try back-in the hopeless chaos you are lost. From this danger the speaker of a written speech is never safe; it may occur at any moment, and the result is always humiliating.

But there is another objection to written speeches; they can never be effective ; and for this reason, that they are projected by a process altogether different from that of an extempore speech. What you have first written, then committed to memory, and now proceed to deliver by the lips, you utter by a process that is little better than mechanical. The memory is the only mental faculty engaged in the operation, and your whole attention is concentrated upon the work of recalling the words you have learned. This

process
within

you

is distinctly manifested to your audience ; it is betrayed in face, in tone, in gesture, and your speech, wanting soul, fails to move soul.

But when you speak from the prompting of your intellect, the whole mind is engaged in the operation ; you say what you think, or feel, at the moment of utterance, and therefore you say it in the tones and with the expression that nature prompts, without an effort on your part. It is a law of our being that mind is moved by mind. There is a secret sympathy by which emotion answers to emotion, and your feelings stir the like feelings in your fellow-man. But no feigned emotions, however skilfully enacted, can accomplish this. You may admire the skill of the performer, but you do not feel with him.

Again, the language of a written speech is altogether different from extempore expression. The mind, when it discourses through the pen, throws itself, as it were, into a different attitude from that which it assumes when speaking through the lips. The structure of the sentences is different; the words are different; there is a difference in the array of the thoughts. Written composition is obedient to rules. There are certain conventional forms of expression, so unlike the language of speaking that they betray themselves instantly to a practised ear; and although an unskilled audience might not know the cause, they show the effect in uneasiness, and complain of stiffness and dullness in the orator. Therefore, never write a speech, but only give it careful thought and set down the heads of it in the order in which you propose to treat them.

Thus armed, and screwing up your courage for an ordeal whose severity I have no wish to underrate, go to the meeting at which you are to make the first real trial of your capacities. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and therefore I will tell

you

will feel.

you what

If the audience be a large one, so much the better; it is easier to address a crowd than a small company. You are not scared by a multitude of eyes, but by the fixed gaze

of a limited circle. The aspect of an assembly from a platform is very remarkable. Being raised so much above them, and all faces being turned up and

eyes fixed on you, the consciousness of individuality is lost; you recognise nobody in particular, and the whole seems like one personage having as many eyes as a fly. No beginner ever looked on this sea of eyes without more or less of fear, or when he looked at it saw anything but eyes. But try to make it familiar by an attentive survey of it while you are waiting your turn to speak, if that be possible when you are intently thinking what you will say and how you will say it. Anxious

you

will be, if there is anything in you; some fear is inseparable from the modesty that accompanies genuine capacity; but, in spite of anxiety and fear, let it be your resolve to go on, come what come may.

At length it is your turn. As the time approaches, your heart will begin to flutter, and then to thump audibly against your ribs, and there will be a curious creeping of the flesh, growing almost to a shiver, while your cheeks are burning and your head is throbbing. You stand up. Your knees tremble; your hand shakes ;

of

eyes swims before you and vanishes into a dark mist; you are conscious of nothing but the lights. Suddenly your tongue becomes dry, and, worse than all, your memory fails you, and you feel it failing. Be thankful now that you have not trusted your speech to it. These symptoms have been experienced, more or less, by every man who has achieved the art of oratory ; and some I have known who never escaped from them

the sea

entirely—the trembling knees and parched tongue attending the first sentences uttered in all their speeches, however frequent. Few there are who succeed in avoiding them altogether.

But go on. Say something, however dislocated or unmeaning; anything is better than silence. A little hesitation at the beginning of a speech is never unbecoming, and is often highly effective. One of the best and most practised speakers I ever listened to opened with stammering voice and imperfect sentences, and seemed continually on the point of breaking down ; but as he warmed in the work, words began to flow and self-possession to return, until he rose to eloquence that held his audience in delighted thraldom for three hours. In this, as in all the business of life, he who has not courage to fail must not hope to achieve

Do not venture at all unless you are resolved to go through with it. Even if you cannot collect yourself sufficiently to say the sensible things you intended to say, do not give it up,

but talk

you may be assured of this, that half your audience will give you credit for having some meaning in your words, though they cannot exactly find it out, and if words come freely will think you a fine speaker, regardless of their sense

There is but one hopeless failure-coming to a full stop. But it is probable that, after you have conquered the first terror at the consciousness of lost memory and scattered thoughts, when you find your audience still patient and listening, your self-command will return and you will make a triumphant ending.

Whatever the issue of that first trial, try again. Be not daunted even by failure. Practice will overcome all difficulties. If you have planned a formal speech,

success.

on ; for

or nonsense.

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