The ideal style of public speaking is, with very little modification, the ideal of good conversation. The practical age in which we live demands a colloquial rather than an oratorical style of public speaking. A man who has something to say in conversation usually has little difficulty in saying it. If he presents the facts he will speak convincingly; if he is deeply in earnest he will speak persuasively; and if he be an educated man his speech will have the unmistakable marks of culture and refinement.
In the conversation of well-bred children we find the most interesting and helpful illustrations of unaffected speech. The exquisite modulation of the voice, the unstudied correctness of emphasis, and the sincerity and depth of feeling might well serve as a model for older speakers.
This study of conversation, both our own and that of others, offers daily opportunity for improvement in accuracy and fluency of speech, of fitting words to the mouth as well as to the thought, and of forming habits that will unconsciously disclose themselves in the larger work of public speaking. Care in conversation will guard the public speaker from inflated and unnatural tones, and restrain him from transgressing the laws of nature even in those parts of his speech demanding lofty and intensified treatment.
Some easily remembered suggestions regarding conversation are these:
1. Pronounce your words distinctly and accurately, like |newly made coins| from the mint, but without pedantry.
2. Upon no occasion allow yourself to indulge in careless or incorrect speech.
3. Open the mouth well in conversation. Much indistinct speech is due to speaking through half-closed teeth.
4. Closely observe your conversation and that of others, to detect faults and to improve your speaking-style.
5. Vary your voice to suit the variety of your thought. A well-modulated voice demands appropriate changes of pitch, force, perspective, and feeling.
6. Avoid loud talking.
7. Take care of the consonants and the vowels will take care of themselves.
8. Cultivate the music of the conversational tones.
9. Favor the low pitches of your voice.
10. Remember that the purpose of conscious practise and observation in the matter of conversation is to lead ultimately to unconscious performance.
The value of correct conversation as a means to effective public speaking is realized by few men. Beecher said: |How much squandering there is of the voice!| meaning that this golden opportunity for improvement was generally disregarded. It is not too much to say, however, that if the sweet and gentle expression of the mother, the strong and affectionate tones of the father, and the spontaneous musical notes of the children, as heard in daily conversation, could be united in the voice of the minister and brought to the preaching of his sermon, there would be little doubt of its magical and enduring effect upon the hearts of men. The wooing tone of the lover is what the preacher needs in his pulpit style rather than the voice of declamation and denunciation.
The study of conversation serves to guide the public speaker not only in the free and natural use of his voice, enunciation, and expression, but also in his use of language. He will here learn to choose the simple word instead of the complex, the short sentence instead of the involved, the concrete illustration instead of the abstract. He will acquire ease, spontaneity, simplicity, and directness, and when he rises to speak to men he will employ tones and words best known and understood by them.
A preacher may spend too much time in study and solitude. If he does he will soon realize a distinct loss through lack of social intercourse with his fellow men. The faculties most needed in pulpit preaching are those very powers that are so largely exercised in ordinary conversation. The ability to think quickly, to marshal facts and arguments, to introduce a vivid story or illustration, to parry and thrust as is sometimes needed to hold one's own ground, and the general mental activity aroused in conversation, all tend to produce an interesting, vivacious, and forceful style in public speaking.
We should not underestimate the value of meditation and silence to the public speaker. These are necessary for original and profound thinking, for the cultivation of the imagination, and for the accumulation of thought. But conversation offers an immediate outlet for this stored-up knowledge, testing it as a finished product in expression, and projecting it into life and reality by all the resources of voice and feeling. This exercise is as necessary to the mind as physical exercise is to the body. Indeed, a full mind demands this relief in expression, lest the strain become too great.
The daily newspaper and the magazines should not be allowed to usurp the place of conversation. If the art of talking is rapidly dying out, as some assert, we should do our share to revive it. We may not again have the wit and repartee, the brilliant intellectual combats of those other days, but we can at least each have a cultivated speaking-voice, an interesting manner of expressing our ideas in conversation, and a refined pronunciation of our mother tongue.