All successful speakers do not speak alike. Each man has found certain things to be effective in his particular case, but which would not necessarily be suited to a different type of speaker.
When, therefore, you read the following methods of various men, ask yourself in each case whether you can apply the ideas to advantage in your own speaking. Put the method to a practical test, and decide for yourself whether it is advisable for you to adopt it or not.
Requirements of Effective Speaking
There are certain requirements in public speaking which you and every other speaker must observe. You must be grammatical, intelligent, lucid, and sincere. These are essential. You must know your subject thoroughly, and have the ability to put it into pleasing and persuasive form.
But beyond these considerations there are many things which must be left to your temperament, taste, and individuality. To compel you to speak according to inflexible rules would make you not an orator but an automaton.
The temperamental differences in successful speakers have been very great. One eminent speaker used practically no gesture; another was in almost constant action. One was quiet, modest, and conversational in his speaking style; another was impulsive and resistless as a mountain torrent.
It is safe to say that almost any man, however unpretentious his language, will command a hearing in Congress, Parliament, or elsewhere, if he gives accurate information upon a subject of importance and in a manner of unquestioned sincerity.
You will observe in the historical accounts of great orators, that without a single exception they studied, read, practised, conversed, and meditated, not occasionally, but with daily regularity. Many of them were endowed with natural gifts, but they supplemented these with indefatigable work.
Well-known Speakers and Their Methods
There is a rugged type of speaker who transcends and seemingly defies all rules of oratory. Such a man was the great Scottish preacher Chalmers, who was without polished elocution, grace, or manner, but who through his intellectual power and moral earnestness thrilled all who heard him.
He read his sermons entirely from manuscripts, but it is evident from the effects of his preaching that he was not a slave to the written word as many such speakers have been. While he read, he retained much of his freedom of gesture and physical expression, doubtless due to familiarity with his subject and thorough preparation of his message.
You can profitably study the speeches of John Bright. They are noteworthy for their simplicity of diction and uniform quality of directness. His method was to make a plain statement of facts, enunciate certain fundamental principles, then follow with his argument and application.
His choice of words and style of delivery were most carefully studied, and his sonorous voice was under such complete control that he could speak at great length without the slightest fatigue. Many of his illustrations were drawn from the Bible, which he is said to have known better than any other book.
Lord Brougham wrote nine times the concluding parts of his speech for the defense of Queen Caroline. He once told a young man that if he wanted to speak well he must first learn to talk well. He recognized that good talking was the basis of effective public speaking.
Bear in mind, however, that this does not mean you are always to confine yourself to a conversational level. There are themes which demand large treatment, wherein vocal power and impassioned feeling are appropriate and essential. But what Lord Brougham meant, and it is equally true to-day, was that good public speaking is fundamentally good talking.
Edmund Burke recommended debate as one of the best means for developing facility and power in public speaking. Himself a master of debate, he said, "He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper. This amiable conflict with difficulty obliges us to have an intimate acquaintance with our subject, and compels us to consider it in all its relations. It will not suffer us to be superficial."
Burke, like all great orators, believed in premeditation, and always wrote and corrected his speeches with fastidious care. While such men knew that inspiration might come at the moment of speaking, they preferred to base their chances of success upon painstaking preparation.
Massillon, the great French divine, spoke in a commanding voice and in a style so direct that at times he almost overwhelmed his hearers. His pointed and personal questions could not be evaded. He sent truth like fiery darts to the hearts of his hearers.
I ask you to note very carefully the following eloquent passage from a sermon in which he explained how men justified themselves because they were no worse than the multitude:
"On this account it is, my brethren, that I confine myself to you who at present are assembled here; I include not the rest of men, but consider you as alone existing on the earth. The idea which occupies and frightens me is this: I figure to myself the present as your last hour and the end of the world; that the heavens are going to open above your heads; our Savior, in all His glory, to appear in the midst of the temple; and that you are only assembled here to wait His coming; like trembling criminals on whom the sentence is to be pronounced, either of life eternal or of everlasting death; for it is vain to flatter yourselves that you shall die more innocent than you are at this hour. All those desires of change with which you are amused will continue to amuse you till death arrives, the experience of all ages proves it; the only difference you have to expect will most likely be a larger balance against you than what you would have to answer for at present; and from what would be your destiny were you to be judged this moment, you may almost decide upon what will take place at your departure from life. Now, I ask you (and connecting my own lot with yours I ask with dread), were Jesus Christ to appear in this temple, in the midst of this assembly, to judge us, to make the dreadful separation betwixt the goats and sheep, do you believe that the greatest number of us would be placed at His right hand? Do you believe that the number would at least be equal? Do you believe there would even be found ten upright and faithful servants of the Lord, when formerly five cities could not furnish so many? I ask you. You know not, and I know it not. Thou alone, O my God, knowest who belong to Thee. But if we know not who belong to Him, at least we know that sinners do not. Now, who are the just and faithful assembled here at present? Titles and dignities avail nothing, you are stript of all these in the presence of your Savior. Who are they? Many sinners who wish not to be converted; many more who wish, but always put it off; many others who are only converted in appearance, and again fall back to their former courses. In a word, a great number who flatter themselves they have no occasion for conversion. This is the party of the reprobate. Ah! my brethren, cut off from this assembly these four classes of sinners, for they will be cut off at the great day. And now appear, ye just! Where are ye? O God, where are Thy chosen? And what a portion remains to Thy share."
Gladstone had by nature a musical and melodious voice, but through practise he developed an unusual range of compass and variety. He could sink it to a whisper and still be audible, while in open-air meetings he could easily make himself heard by thousands.
He was courteous, and even ceremonious, in his every-day meeting with men, so that it was entirely natural for him to be deferential and ingratiating in his public speaking. He is an excellent illustration of the value of cultivating in daily conversation and manner the qualities you desire to have in your public address.
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams read two chapters from the Bible every morning, which accounted in large measure for his resourceful English style. He was fond of using the pen in daily composition, and constantly committed to paper the first thoughts which occurred to him upon any important subject.
The ambition of Fox was to become a great political orator and debater, in which at last he succeeded. His mental agility was manifest in his reply to an elector whom he had canvassed for a vote, and who offered him a halter instead. "Oh thank you," said Fox, "I would not deprive you of what is evidently a family relic."
His method was to take each argument of an opponent, and dispose of it in regular order. His passion was for argument, upon great or petty subjects. He availed himself of every opportunity to speak. "During five whole sessions," he said, "I spoke every night but one; and I regret that I did not speak on that night, too."
Theodore Parker always read his sermons aloud while writing them, in order to test their "speaking quality." His opinion was that an impressive delivery depended particularly upon vigorous feeling, energetic thinking, and clearness of statement.
Henry Ward Beecher
Henry Ward Beecher's method was to practise vocal exercises in the open air, exploding all the vowel sounds in various keys. This practise duly produced a most flexible instrument, which served him throughout his brilliant career. He said:
"I had from childhood impediments of speech arising from a large palate, so that when a boy I used to be laughed at for talking as if I had a pudding in my mouth. When I went to Amherst, I was fortunate in passing into the hands of John Lovell, a teacher of elocution, and a better teacher for my purpose I can not conceive of. His system consisted in drill, or the thorough practise of inflections by the voice, of gesture, posture and articulation. Sometimes I was a whole hour practising my voice on a word -- like justice. I would have to take a posture, frequently at a mark chalked on the floor. Then we would go through all the gestures, exercising each movement of the arm and throwing open the hand. All gestures except those of precision go in curves, the arm rising from the side, coming to the front, turning to the left or right. I was drilled as to how far the arm should come forward, where it should start from, how far go back, and under what circumstances these movements should be made. It was drill, drill, drill, until the motions almost became a second nature. Now, I never know what movements I shall make. My gestures are natural, because this drill made them natural to me. The only method of acquiring effective elocution is by practise, of not less than an hour a day, until the student has his voice and himself thoroughly subdued and trained to get right expression."
Lord Bolingbroke made it a rule always to speak well in daily conversation, however unimportant the occasion. His taste and accuracy at last gave him a style in ordinary speech worthy to have been put into print as it fell from his lips.
Lord Chatham, despite his great natural endowments for speaking, devoted a regular time each day to developing a varied and copious vocabulary. He twice examined each word in the dictionary, from beginning to end, in his ardent desire to master the English language.
John Philpot Curran
The well-known case of John Philpot Curran should give encouragement to every aspiring student of public speaking. He was generally known as "Orator Mum," because of his failure in his first attempt at public speaking. But he resolved to develop his oratorical powers, and devoted every morning to intense reading. In addition, he regularly carried in his pocket a small copy of a classic for convenient reading at odd moments.
It is said that he daily practised declamation before a looking-glass, closely scrutinizing his gesture, posture, and manner. He was an earnest student of public speaking, and eventually became one of the most eloquent of world orators.
Among present-day speakers in England Mr. Balfour occupies a leading place. He possesses the gift of never saying a word too much, a habit which might be copied to advantage by many public speakers. His habit during a debate is to scribble a few words on an envelop, and then to speak with rare facility of English style.
Bonar Law does not use any notes in the preparation of a speech, but carefully thinks out the various parts, and then by means of a series of "mental rehearsals" fixes them indelibly in his mind. The result of this conscientious practise has made him a formidable debater and extempore speaker.
Herbert H. Asquith, who possesses the rare gift of summoning the one inevitable word, and of compressing his speeches into a small space of time, speaks with equal success whether from a prepared manuscript or wholly extempore. His unsurpassed English style is the result of many years reading and study of prose masterpieces. "He produces, wherever and whenever he wants them, an endless succession of perfectly coined sentences, conceived with unmatched felicity and delivered without hesitation in a parliamentary style which is at once the envy and the despair of imitators."
William Jennings Bryan is by common consent one of the greatest public speakers in America. He has a voice of unusual power and compass, and his delivery is natural and deliberate. His style is generally forensic, altho he frequently rises to the dramatic. He has been a diligent student of oratory, and once said:
"The age of oratory has not passed; nor will it pass. The press, instead of displacing the orator, has given him a larger audience and enabled him to do a more extended work. As long as there are human rights to be defended; as long as there are great interests to be guarded; as long as the welfare of nations is a matter for discussion, so long will public speaking have its place."
Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most effective of American public speakers, due in large measure to intense moral earnestness and great stores of physical vitality. His diction was direct and his style energetic. He spoke out of the fulness of a well-furnished mind.
Success Factors in Platform Speaking
Constant practise of composition has been the habit of all great orators. This, combined with the habit of reading and re-reading the best prose writers and poets, accounts in large measure for the felicitous style of such men as Burke, Erskine, Macaulay, Bolingbroke, Phillips, Everett and Webster.
I can not too often urge you to use your pen in daily composition as a means to felicity and facility of speech. The act of writing out your thoughts is a direct aid to concentration, and tends to enforce the habit of choosing the best language. It gives clearness, force, precision, beauty, and copiousness of style, so valuable in extemporaneous and impromptu speaking.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF MEMORIZING SPEECHES
Some of the most highly successful speakers carefully wrote out, revised, and committed to memory important passages in their speeches. These they dexterously wove into the body of their addresses in such a natural manner as not to expose their method.
This plan, however, is not to be generally recommended, since few men have the faculty of rendering memorized parts so as to make them appear extempore. If you recite rather than speak to an audience, you may be a good entertainer, but just to that degree will you impair your power and effectiveness as a public speaker.
There are speakers who have successfully used the plan of committing to memory significant sentences, statements, or sayings, and skilfully embodying them in their speeches. You might test this method for yourself, tho it is attended with danger.
If possible, join a local debating society, where you will have excellent opportunity for practise in thinking and speaking on your feet. Many distinguished public speakers have owed their fluency of speech and self-confidence to early practise in debate.
THE VALUE OF REPETITION
Persuasion is a task of skill. You must bring to your aid in speaking every available resource. An effective weapon at times is a "remorseless iteration." Have the courage to repeat yourself as often as may be necessary to impress your leading ideas upon the minds of your hearers. Note the forensic maxim, "tell a judge twice whatever you want him to hear; tell a special jury thrice, and a common jury half a dozen times, the view of a case you wish them to entertain."
THE NEED OF SELF-CONFIDENCE
Whatever methods of premeditation you adopt in the preparation of a speech, having planned everything to the best of your ability, dismiss from your mind all anxiety and all thought about yourself.
Right preparation and earnest practise should give you a full degree of confidence in your ability to perform the task before you. When you stand at last before the audience, it should be with the assurance that you are thoroughly equipped to say something of real interest and importance.
THE POWER OF PERSONALITY
Personality plays a vital part in a speaker's success. Gladstone described Cardinal Newman's manner in the pulpit as unsatisfactory if considered in its separate parts. "There was not much change in the inflection of his voice; action there was none; his sermons were read, and his eyes were always on his book; and all that, you will say, is against efficiency in preaching. Yes; but you take the man as a whole, and there was a stamp and a seal upon him, there was solemn music and sweetness in his tone, there was a completeness in the figure, taken together with the tone and with the manner, which made even his delivery such as I have described it, and tho exclusively with written sermons, singularly attractive."
THE DANGER OF IMITATION
It is a fatal mistake, as I have said, to set out deliberately to imitate some favorite speaker, and to mold your style after his. You will observe certain things and methods in other speakers which will fit in naturally with your style and temperament. To this extent you may advantageously adopt them, but always be on your guard against anything which might in the slightest degree impair your own individuality.
Speech for Study, with Lesson Talk
FEATURES OF AN ELOQUENT ADDRESS
You will find useful material for study and practise in the speech which follows, delivered by Lord Rosebery at the Unveiling of the Statue of Gladstone at Glasgow, Scotland, October 11th, 1902.
The English style is noteworthy for its uniform charm and naturalness. There is an unmistakable personal note which contributes greatly to the effect of the speaker's words.
This eloquent address is a model for such an occasion, and a good illustration of the work of a speaker thoroughly familiar with his theme. It has sufficient variety to sustain interest, dignity in keeping with the subject, and a note of inspiration which would profoundly impress an audience of thinking men. It is a scholarly address.
Note the concise introductory sentences. Repeat them aloud and observe how easily they flow from the lips. Notice the balance and variety of successive sentences, the stately diction, and the underlying tone of deep sincerity.
Examine every phrase and sentence of this eloquent speech. Study the conclusion and particularly the closing paragraph. When you have thoroughly analyzed the speech, stand up and render it aloud in clear-cut tones and appropriately dignified style.
SPEECH FOR STUDY
AT THE UNVEILING OF THE STATUE OF GLADSTONE
(Address of Lord Rosebery)
I am here to-day to unveil the image of one of the great figures of our country. It is right and fitting that it should stand here. A statue of Mr. Gladstone is congenial in any part of Scotland. But in this Scottish city, teeming with eager workers, endowed with a great University, a center of industry, commerce, and thought, a statue of William Ewart Gladstone is at home.
But you in Glasgow have more personal claims to a share in the inheritance of Mr. Gladstone's fame. I, at any rate, can recall one memory -- the record of that marvelous day in December, 1879, nearly twenty-three years ago, when the indomitable old man delivered his rectorial address to the students at noon, a long political speech in St. Andrew's Hall in the evening, and a substantial discourse on receiving an address from the Corporation at ten o'clock at night. Some of you may have been present at all these gatherings, some only at the political meeting. If they were, they may remember the little incidents of the meeting -- the glasses which were hopelessly lost and then, of course, found on the orator's person -- the desperate candle brought in, stuck in a water-bottle, to attempt sufficient light to read an extract. And what a meeting it was -- teeming, delirious, absorbed! Do you have such meetings now? They seem to me pretty good; but the meetings of that time stand out before all others in my mind.
This statue is erected, not out of the national subscription, but by the contributions from men of all creeds in Glasgow and in the West. I must then, in what I have to say, leave out altogether the political aspect of Mr. Gladstone. In some cases such a rule would omit all that was interesting in a man. There are characters, from which if you subtracted politics, there would be nothing left. It was not so with Mr. Gladstone.
To the great mass of his fellow-countrymen he was of course a statesman, wildly worshipped by some, wildly detested by others. But, to those who were privileged to know him, his politics seemed but the least part of him. The predominant part, to which all else was subordinated, was his religion; the life which seemed to attract him most was the life of the library; the subject which engrossed him most was the subject of the moment, whatever it might be, and that, when he was out of office, was very rarely politics. Indeed, I sometimes doubt whether his natural bent was toward politics at all. Had his course taken him that way, as it very nearly did, he would have been a great churchman, greater perhaps than any that this island has known; he would have been a great professor, if you could have found a university big enough to hold him; he would have been a great historian, a great bookman, he would have grappled with whole libraries and wrestled with academies, had the fates placed him in a cloister; indeed it is difficult to conceive the career, except perhaps the military, in which his energy and intellect and application would not have placed him on a summit. Politics, however, took him and claimed his life service, but, jealous mistress as she is, could never thoroughly absorb him.
Such powers as I have indicated seem to belong to a giant and a prodigy, and I can understand many turning away from the contemplation of such a character, feeling that it is too far removed from them to interest them, and that it is too unapproachable to help them -- that it is like reading of Hercules or Hector, mythical heroes whose achievements the actual living mortal can not hope to rival. Well, that is true enough; we have not received intellectual faculties equal to Mr. Gladstone's, and can not hope to vie with him in their exercise. But apart from them, his great force was character, and amid the vast multitude that I am addressing, there is none who may not be helped by him.
The three signal qualities which made him what he was, were courage, industry, and faith; dauntless courage, unflagging industry, a faith which was part of his fiber; these were the levers with which he moved the world.
I do not speak of his religious faith, that demands a worthier speaker and another occasion. But no one who knew Mr. Gladstone could fail to see that it was the essence, the savor, the motive power of his life. Strange as it may seem, I can not doubt that while this attracted many to him, it alienated others, others not themselves irreligious, but who suspected the sincerity of so manifest a devotion, and who, reared in the moderate atmosphere of the time, disliked the intrusion of religious considerations into politics. These, however, though numerous enough, were the exceptions, and it can not, I think, be questioned that Mr. Gladstone not merely raised the tone of public discussion, but quickened and renewed the religious feeling of the society in which he moved.
But this is not the faith of which I am thinking to-day. What is present to me is the faith with which he espoused and pursued great causes. There also he had faith sufficient to move mountains, and did sometimes move mountains. He did not lightly resolve, he came to no hasty conclusion, but when he had convinced himself that a cause was right, it engrossed him, it inspired him, with a certainty as deep-seated and as imperious as ever moved mortal man. To him, then, obstacles, objections, the counsels of doubters and critics were as nought, he pressed on with the passion of a whirlwind, but also with the steady persistence of some puissant machine.
He had, of course, like every statesman, often to traffic with expediency, he had always, I suppose, to accept something less than his ideal, but his unquenchable faith, not in himself -- tho that with experience must have waxed strong -- not in himself but in his cause, sustained him among the necessary shifts and transactions of the moment, and kept his head high in the heavens.
Such faith, such moral conviction, is not given to all men, for the treasures of his nature were in ingots, and not in dust. But there is, perhaps, no man without some faith in some cause or some person; if so, let him take heart, in however small a minority he may be, by remembering how mighty a strength was Gladstone's power of faith.
His next great force lay in his industry. I do not know if the aspersions of "ca' canny" be founded, but at any rate there was no "ca' canny" about him. From his earliest school-days, if tradition be true, to the bed of death, he gave his full time and energy to work. No doubt his capacity for labor was unusual. He would sit up all night writing a pamphlet, and work next day as usual. An eight-hours' day would have been a holiday to him, for he preached and practised the gospel of work to its fullest extent. He did not, indeed, disdain pleasure; no one enjoyed physical exercise, or a good play, or a pleasant dinner, more than he; he drank in deep draughts of the highest and the best that life had to offer; but even in pastime he was never idle. He did not know what it was to saunter, he debited himself with every minute of his time; he combined with the highest intellectual powers the faculty of utilizing them to the fullest extent by intense application. Moreover, his industry was prodigious in result, for he was an extraordinarily rapid worker. Dumont says of Mirabeau, that till he met that marvelous man he had no idea of how much could be achieved in a day. "Had I not lived with him," he says, "I should not know what can be accomplished in a day, all that can be comprest into an interval of twelve hours. A day was worth more to him than a week or a month to others." Many men can be busy for hours with a mighty small product, but with Mr. Gladstone every minute was fruitful. That, no doubt, was largely due to his marvelous powers of concentration. When he was staying at Dalmeny in 1879 he kindly consented to sit for his bust. The only difficulty was that there was no time for sittings. So the sculptor with his clay model was placed opposite Mr. Gladstone as he worked, and they spent the mornings together, Mr. Gladstone writing away, and the clay figure of himself less than a yard off gradually assuming shape and form. Anything more distracting I can not conceive, but it had no effect on the busy patient. And now let me make a short digression. I saw recently in your newspapers that there was some complaint of the manners of the rising generation in Glasgow. If that be so, they are heedless of Mr. Gladstone's example. It might be thought that so impetuous a temper as his might be occasionally rough or abrupt. That was not so. His exquisite urbanity was one of his most conspicuous graces. I do not now only allude to that grave, old-world courtesy, which gave so much distinction to his private life; for his sweetness of manner went far beyond demeanor. His spoken words, his letters, even when one differed from him most acutely, were all marked by this special note. He did not like people to disagree with him, few people do; but, so far as manner went, it was more pleasant to disagree with Mr. Gladstone than to be in agreement with some others.
Lastly, I come to his courage -- that perhaps was his greatest quality, for when he gave his heart and reason to a cause, he never counted the cost. Most men are physically brave, and this nation is reputed to be especially brave, but Mr. Gladstone was brave among the brave. He had to the end the vitality of physical courage. When well on in his ninth decade, well on to ninety, he was knocked over by a cab, and before the bystanders could rally to his assistance, he had pursued the cab with a view to taking its number. He had, too, notoriously, political courage in a not less degree than Sir Robert Walpole. We read that George II, who was little given to enthusiasm, would often cry out, with color flushing into his cheeks, and tears sometimes in his eyes, and with a vehement oath: -- "He (Walpole) is a brave fellow; he has more spirit than any man I ever knew."
Mr. Gladstone did not yield to Walpole in political and parliamentary courage -- it was a quality which he closely observed in others, and on which he was fond of descanting. But he had the rarest and choicest courage of all -- I mean moral courage. That was his supreme characteristic, and it was with him, like others, from the first. A contemporary of his at Eton once told me of a scene, at which my informant was present, when some loose or indelicate toast was proposed, and all present drank it but young Gladstone. In spite of the storm of objurgation and ridicule that raged around him, he jammed his face, as it were, down in his hands on the table and would not budge. Every schoolboy knows, for we may here accurately use Macaulay's well-known expression, every schoolboy knows the courage that this implies. And even by the heedless generation of boyhood it was appreciated, for we find an Etonian writing to his parents to ask that he might go to Oxford rather than Cambridge, on the sole ground that at Oxford he would have the priceless advantage of Gladstone's influence and example. Nor did his courage ever flag. He might be right, or he might be wrong -- that is not the question here -- but when he was convinced that he was right, not all the combined powers of Parliament or society or the multitude could for an instant hinder his course, whether it ended in success or in failure. Success left him calm, he had had so much of it; nor did failures greatly depress him. The next morning found him once more facing the world with serene and undaunted brow. There was a man. The nation has lost him, but preserves his character, his manhood, as a model, on which she may form if she be fortunate, coming generations of men. With his politics, with his theology, with his manifold graces and gifts of intellect, we are not concerned to-day, not even with his warm and passionate human sympathies. They are not dead with him, but let them rest with him, for we can not in one discourse view him in all his parts. To-day it is enough to have dealt for a moment on three of his great moral characteristics, enough to have snatched from the fleeting hour a few moments of communion with the mighty dead.
History has not yet allotted him his definite place, but no one would now deny that he bequeathed a pure standard of life, a record of lofty ambition for the public good as he understood it, a monument of life-long labor. Such lives speak for themselves, they need no statues, they face the future with the confidence of high purpose and endeavor. The statues are not for them but for us, to bid us be conscious of our trust, mindful of our duty, scornful of opposition to principle and faith. They summon us to account for time and opportunity, they embody an inspiring tradition, they are milestones in the life of a nation. The effigy of Pompey was bathed in the blood of his great rival: let this statue have the nobler destiny of constantly calling to life worthy rivals of Gladstone's fame and character.
Unveil, then, that statue. Let it stand to Glasgow in all time coming for faith, fortitude, courage, industry, qualities apart from intellect or power or wealth, which may inspire all her citizens however humble, however weak; let it remind the most unthinking passer-by of the dauntless character which it represents, of his long life and honest purpose; let it leaven by an immortal tradition the population which lives and works and dies around this monument.