THE SPOKEN WORD
Some have prophesied that with the spread of the newspaper public speaking would decline—but the prediction has not been fulfilled and its failure is easily explained. In the first place, the written page can never be a substitute for the message delivered orally. The newspaper vastly multiplies the audience but they hear only the echo, not the speech itself. One cannot write as he speaks because he lacks the inspiration furnished by an audience. Gladstone has very happily described the influence exerted by the audience upon the speaker, an influence which returns to the audience stamped with his own personality. He says that the speaker draws inspiration from the audience in the form of mist and pours it back in a flood. It need hardly be added that this refers to speaking without manuscript, but reading, while always regrettable, is sometimes necessary—especially when accuracy is more important than the immediate effect.
In order to secure both accuracy and animation it is well to prepare the speech in advance and then revise it after delivery.
With increased intelligence a larger percentage of the population are able to think upon their feet, to take part in public discussions and to give their community and country the benefit of their conscience and judgment. The fraternities and labour and commercial organizations have largely aided in the development of speaking by the exchange of views at their regular meetings. The extension of popular government naturally increases public speaking as it brings the masses into closer relation to the government and makes them more and more a controlling force in politics.
The newspapers, instead of making the stump unnecessary, often increase the necessity for face to face communication in order that both sides may be represented and, sometimes, in order that misrepresentations may be exposed.
No substitute can be found for the pulpit. Earnestness which finds expression through the voice cannot be communicated through the printed page. If we are thrilled by what we read it gives us only a glimpse of the power of speech to stir the soul. If the spoken word is to continue to play an important part in the communication of information and in the compelling of thought it is worth while to consider some of the rules that contribute to the effectiveness of the pulpit and the platform.
Sometimes I receive a letter from a young man who informs me that he is a born orator and asks what such an one should do to prepare him for his life-work. I answer that while an orator must be born like others his success will not depend on inheritance, neither will a favourable environment in youth assure it. An ancestor’s fame may inspire him to effort and the associations of the fireside may stimulate, but ability to speak effectively is an acquirement rather than a gift.
Eloquence may be defined as the speech of one who knows what he is talking about and means what he says—it is thought on fire. One cannot communicate information unless he possesses it. There is quite a difference in people in this respect; we say of one that he knows more than he can tell and, of another, that he can tell all he knows, but it is a reflection upon a man to say that he can tell more than he knows.