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Successful Methods Of Public Speaking by Grenville Kleiser



[Footnote 1: A talk given before The Public Speaking Club of America.]

The art of public speaking is so simple that it is difficult. There is an erroneous impression that in order to make a successful speech a man must have unusual natural talent in addition to long and arduous study.

Consequently, many a person, when asked to make a speech, is immediately subjected to a feeling of fear or depression. Once committed to the undertaking, he spends anxious days and sleepless nights in mental agony, much as a criminal is said to do just prior to his execution. When at last he attempts his |maiden effort,| he is almost wholly unfit for his task because of the needless waste of thought and energy expended in fear.

Elbert Hubbard once confided to me that when he made deliberate preparation for an elaborate speech, -- which was seldom, -- it was invariably a disappointment. To push a great speech before him for an hour or more used up most of his vitality. It was like making a speech while attempting to carry a heavy burden on the back.


There is, of course, certain preparation necessary for effective public speaking. The so-called impromptu speech is largely the product of previous knowledge and study. What the speaker has read, what he has seen, what he has heard, -- in short, what he actually knows, furnishes the available material for his use.

As the public speaker gains in experience, however, he learns to put aside, at the time of speaking, all conscious thought of rules or methods. He learns through discipline how to abandon himself to the subject in hand and to give spontaneous expression to all his powers.

Primarily, then, the public speaker should have a well-stored mind. He should have mental culture in a broad way; sound judgment, a sense of proportion, mental alertness, a retentive memory, tact, and common sense, -- these are vital to good speaking.

The physical requirements of the public speaker comprise good health and bodily vigor. He must have power of endurance, since there will be at times arduous demands upon him. It is worthy of note that most of the world's great orators have been men with great animal vitality.

The student of public speaking should give careful attention to his personal appearance, which includes care of the teeth. His clothes, linen, and the evidence of general care and cleanliness, will play an important part in the impression he makes upon an audience.

Elocutionary training is essential. Daily drill in deep breathing, articulation, pronunciation, voice culture, gesture, and expression, are prerequisites to polished speech. Experienced public speakers of the best type know the necessity for daily practise.

The mental training of the public speaker, so often neglected, should be regular and thorough. A reliable memory and a vivid imagination are his indispensable allies.

The moral side of the public speaker will include the development of character, sympathy, self-confidence and kindred qualities. To be a leader of other men, a speaker must have clear, settled, vigorous views upon the subject under consideration.

So much, briefly, as to the previous preparation of the speaker.


As to the speech itself, the speaker first chooses a subject. This will depend upon the nature of the occasion and the purpose in view. He proceeds intelligently to gather material on his selected theme, supplementing the resources of his own mind with information from books, periodicals, and other sources.

The next step is to make a brief, or outline of his subject. A brief is composed of three parts, called the introduction, the discussion or statement of facts, and the conclusion. Principal ideas are placed under headings and subheadings.

The speaker next writes out his speech in full, using the brief as the basis of procedure. The discipline of writing out a speech, even tho the intention is to speak without notes, is of inestimable value. It is one of the best indications of the speaker's thoroughness and sincerity.

When the speech has at last been carefully written out, revised, and approved, should it be committed word for word to memory, or only in part, or should the speaker read from the manuscript?


Here circumstances must govern. The most approved method is to fix the thoughts clearly in mind, and to trust to the time of speaking for exact phraseology. This method requires, however, that the speaker rehearse his speech over and over again, changing the form of the words frequently, so as to acquire facility in the use of language.

The great objection to memoriter speaking is that it limits and handicaps the speaker. He is like a schoolboy |saying his piece.| He is in constant danger of running off the prescribed track and of having to begin again at some definite point.

The most effective speaker to-day is the one who can think clearly and promptly on his feet, and can speak from his personality rather than from his memory. Untrammelled by manuscript or effort of memory, he gives full and spontaneous expression to his powers. On the other hand, a speech from memory is like a recitation, almost inevitably stilted and artificial in character.


Those who would become highly proficient in public speaking should form the dictionary habit. It is a profitable and pleasant exercise to study lists of words and to incorporate them in one's daily conversation. Ten minutes devoted regularly every day to this study will build the vocabulary in a rapid manner.

The study of words is really a study of ideas, -- since words are symbols of ideas, -- and while the student is increasing his working vocabulary, in the way indicated, he is at the same time furnishing his mind with new and useful ideas.

One of the best exercises for the student of public speaking is to read aloud daily, taking care to read as he would speak. He should choose one of the standard writers, such as Stevenson, Ruskin, Newman, or Carlyle, and while reading severely criticize his delivery. Such reading should be done standing up and as if addressing an audience. This simple exercise will, in the course of a few weeks, yield the most gratifying results.

It is true that |All art must be preceded by a certain mechanical expertness,| but as the highest art is to conceal art, a student must learn eventually to abandon thought of |exercises| and |rules.|


The three greatest qualities in a successful public speaker are simplicity, directness, and deliberateness.

Lincoln had these qualities in preeminent degree. His speech at Gettysburg -- the model short speech of all history -- occupied about three minutes in delivery. Edward Everett well said afterward that he would have been content to make the same impression in three hours which Lincoln made in that many minutes.

The great public speakers in all times have been earnest and diligent students. We are familiar with the indefatigable efforts of Demosthenes, who rose from very ordinary circumstances, and goaded by the realization of great natural defects, through assiduous self-training eventually made the greatest of the world's orations, |The Speech on the Crown.|

Cicero was a painstaking disciple of the speaker's art and gave himself much to the discipline of the pen. His masterly work on oratory in which he commends others to write much, remains unsurpassed to this day.

John Bright, the eminent British orator, always required time for preparation. He read every morning from the Bible, from which he drew rich material for argument and illustration. A remarkable thing about him was that he spoke seldom.

Phillips Brooks was an ideal speaker, combining simplicity and sympathy in large degree. He was a splendid type of pulpit orator produced by broad spiritual culture.

Henry Ward Beecher had unique powers as a dramatic and eloquent speaker. In his youth he hesitated in his speech, which led him to study elocution. He himself tells of how he went to the woods daily to practise vocal exercises.

He was an exponent of thorough preparation, never speaking upon a subject until he had made it his own by diligent study. Like Phillips Brooks, he was a man of large sympathy and imagination -- two faculties indispensable to persuasive eloquence.

It was his oratory that first brought fame to Gladstone. He had a superb voice, and he possest that fighting force essential to a great public debater. When he quitted the House of Commons in his eighty-fifth year his powers of eloquence were practically unimpaired.

Wendell Phillips was distinguished for his personality, conversational style, and thrilling voice. He had a wonderful vocabulary, and a personal magnetism which won men instantly to him. It is said that he relied principally upon the power of truth to make his speaking eloquent. He, too, was an untiring student of the speaker's art.

As we examine the lives and records of eminent speakers of other days, we are imprest with the fact that they were sincere and earnest students of the art in which they ultimately excelled.


One of the best exercises for learning to think and speak on the feet is to practise daily giving one minute impromptu talks upon chosen subjects. A good plan is to write subjects of a general character, on say fifty or more cards, and then to speak on each subject as it is chosen.

This simple exercise will rapidly develop facility of thought and expression and give greatly increased self-confidence.

It is a good plan to prepare more material than one intends to use -- at least twice as much. It gives a comfortable feeling of security when one stands before an audience, to know that if some of the prepared matter evades his memory, he still has ample material at his ready service.

There is no more interesting and valuable study than that of speaking in public. It confers distinct advantages by way of improved health, through special exercise in deep breathing and voice culture; by way of stimulated thought and expression; and by an increase of self-confidence and personal power.

Men and women in constantly increasing numbers are realizing the importance of public speaking, and as questions multiply for debate and solution the need for this training will be still more widely appreciated, so that a practical knowledge of public speaking will in time be considered indispensable to a well-rounded education.

Speech for Study, with Lesson Talk


The speeches of Mr. Roosevelt commend themselves to the student of public speaking for their fearlessness, frankness, and robustness of thought. His aim was deliberate and effective.

His style was generally exuberant, and the note of personal assertion prominent. He was direct in diction, often vehement in feeling, and one of his characteristics was a visible satisfaction when he drove home a special thought to his hearers.

It is hoped that the extract reprinted here, from Mr. Roosevelt's famous address, |The Strenuous Life,| will lead the student to study the speech in its entirety. The speech will be found in |Essays and Addresses,| published by The Century Company.



[Footnote 2: Extract from speech before the Hamilton Club, Chicago, April 10, 1899. From the |Strenuous Life. Essays and Addresses| by Theodore Roosevelt. The Century Co., 1900.]

In speaking to you, men of the greatest city of the West, men of the State which gave to the country Lincoln and Grant, men who preeminently and distinctly embody all that is most American in the American character, I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.

A life of slothful ease, a life of that peace which springs merely from lack either of desire or of power to strive after great things, is as little worthy of a nation as of an individual. I ask only that what every self-respecting American demands from himself and his sons shall be demanded of the American nation as a whole. Who among you would teach the boys that ease, that peace, is to be the first consideration in their eyes -- to be the ultimate goal after which they strive? You men of Chicago have made this city great, you men of Illinois have done your share, and more than your share, in making America great, because you neither preach nor practise such a doctrine. You work, yourselves, and you bring up your sons to work. If you are rich and are worth your salt you will teach your sons that tho they may have leisure, it is not to be spent in idleness; for wisely used leisure merely means that those who possess it, being free from the necessity of working for their livelihood, are all the more bound to carry on some kind of non-remunerative work in science, in letters, in art, in exploration, in historical research -- work of the type we most need in this country, the successful carrying out of which reflects most honor upon the nation. We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort. Freedom from effort in the present merely means that there has been stored up effort in the past. A man can be freed from the necessity of work only by the fact that he or his fathers before him have worked to good purpose. If the freedom thus purchased is used aright and the man still does actual work tho of a different kind, whether as a writer or a general, whether in the field of politics or in the field of exploration and adventure, he shows he deserves his good fortune. But if he treats this period of freedom from the need of actual labor as a period, not of preparation, but of more enjoyment, he shows that he is simply a cumberer on the earth's surface, and he surely unfits himself to hold his own with his fellows if the need to do so should again arise. A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.

In the last analysis a healthy State can exist only when the men and women who make it up lead clean, vigorous, healthy lives; when the children are so trained that they shall endeavor, not to shirk difficulties, but to overcome them; not to seek ease, but to know how to wrest triumph from toil and risk. The man must be glad to do a man's work, to dare and endure and to labor; to keep himself, and to keep those dependent upon him. The woman must be the housewife, the helpmeet of the homemaker, the wise and fearless mother of many healthy children. In one of Daudet's powerful and melancholy books he speaks of |the fear of maternity, the haunting terror of the young wife of the present day.| When such words can be truthfully written of a nation, that nation is rotten to the heart's core. When men fear work or fear righteous war, when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the brink of doom; and well it is that they should vanish from the earth, where they are fit subjects for the scorn of all men and women who are themselves strong and brave and high-minded.

As it is with the individual, so it is with the nation. It is a base untruth to say that happy is the nation that has no history. Thrice happy is the nation that has a glorious history. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even tho checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat. If in 1861 the men who loved the Union had believed that peace was the end of all things, and war and strife the worst of all things, and had acted up to their belief, we would have saved hundreds of lives, we would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, besides saving all the blood and treasure we then lavished, we would have prevented the heartbreak of many women, the dissolution of many homes, and we would have spared the country those months of gloom and shame when it seemed as if our armies marched only to defeat. We could have avoided all this suffering simply by shrinking from strife. And if we had thus avoided it, we would have shown that we were weaklings, and that we were unfit to stand among the great nations of the earth. Thank God for the iron in the blood of our fathers, the men who upheld the wisdom of Lincoln, and bore sword or rifle in the armies of Grant! Let us, the children of the men who proved themselves equal to the mighty days, let us the children of the men who carried the great Civil War to a triumphant conclusion, praise the God of our fathers that the ignoble counsels of peace were rejected; that the suffering and loss, the blackness of sorrow and despair were unflinchingly faced, and the years of strife endured; for in the end the slave was freed, the Union restored, and the mighty American republic placed once more as a helmeted queen among nations....

The Army and Navy are the sword and shield which this nation must carry if she is to do her duty among the nations of the earth -- if she is not to stand merely as the China of the western hemisphere. Our proper conduct toward the tropic islands we have wrested from Spain is merely the form which our duty has taken at the moment. Of course, we are bound to handle the affairs of our own household well. We must see that there is civic good sense in our home administration of city, State and nation. We must strive for honesty in office, for honesty toward the creditors of the nation and of the individual, for the widest freedom of individual initiative where possible, and for the wisest control of individual initiative where it is hostile to the welfare of the many. But because we set our own household in order we are not thereby excused from playing our part in the great affairs of the world. A man's first duty is to his own home, but he is not thereby excused from doing his duty to the State; for if he fails in this second duty, it is under the penalty of ceasing to be a freeman. In the same way, while a nation's first duty is within its own borders it is not thereby absolved from facing its duties in the world as a whole; and if it refuses to do so, it merely forfeits its right to struggle for a place among the peoples that shape the destiny of mankind.

I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease, but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us, therefore, boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife is justified, for it is only through strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.

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