Mr. Chairman,--In giving this address on public speaking I am reminded of the answers of three eminent men to the question: What are the essentials of public speaking? Martin Luther said there were only three: "Stand up straightly, speak out boldly, and sit down quickly." Edward Everett Hale replied: "Have something to say, say it, and sit down"; and the late J. A. Macdonald-our own J. A. Macdonald-with that delightful little impediment which sometimes characterized his speech, said the three essentials were: "B-b-brass, b-b-brains, and b-b-belly."
The very pithy sayings of these men of eminence are significant as they register so truthfully the attitude of the average person towards the art of public speaking. He wants to learn how, quickly. It makes no difference whether his voice is the most awful ever perpetrated upon a human being; it makes no difference whether he knows anything about the subject or not; he wants to learn how, quickly. He does not want to bother about technique; he wants the essentials given to him in a plain straightforward, common-sense fashion in a few moments time,
Mr. W. H. Greaves, M.A., is the professor in charge of the Department of Public Speaking in Victoria College, Toronto.
and he wants to get results within a few hours. No one but the teacher of public speaking knows how horribly aggravating this attitude is. Yet this afternoon I am going to humor this attitude just as far as possible, and in as short a time as possible I am going to give you what I consider to be the elemental, underlying principles of the art of public speaking.
Now, in any and every form of public speakingI do not care whether you call it public speaking per se, soap-box oratory, pulpit discourse, vocal interpretation of literature, dramatic impersonation, elocution--we make use of three languages, which may be expressed in three synonymous ways--mind, voice, body: words, tone, action: verbal expression, vocal expression, pantomimic expression.
Now, like some other things that the old hymn tells us about, these languages are closely and indissolubly bound, and you can never speak without making use of all of them, but for our purposes this afternoon we want to look at and study them separately.
If it were permissable to assert that one of these is of more importance than the others, certainly of more primary or more elemental importance, I am sure it would not be wrong to say that by all odds it is to the first-mind, thought and feeling-verbal expression. Common sense tells us why this is sofor the simple reason that one must have something to say before he says it. Sometimes we wonder whether there is unanimity of opinion in this regard. (Laughter) However, we may take it as a pretty safe theory to start with that one must have something to say before he says it.
But whether the address is one which has received hours of preparation before the speaker goes to the platform, or whether it is one of those marvellous extemporaneous speeches given by one who has the ability to do creative thinking before his audience, both demand intensive, sympathetic realization during the process of delivery. That is the sine qua non of the whole business, it is the basic principle, and you cannot get along without it. To use a somewhat pompous phrase, there should be an intense sympathetic appreciation of individual ideas in logical sequence during the process of speaking. You can put this in simpler terms if you wish, but every word really is necessary. (Laughter) If you can do this, if you can abandon yourselves absolutely and unconditionally to your thought and feeling, you are pretty apt to speak well whether you happen to know anything about the technique of public speaking or not.
A man must think intensely, his ideas must be clearly defined in his own mind before he can express them clearly to others. I remember a professor of homiletics in Boston, a ponderously solemn old gentleman, once saying to a class of theological students: "Remember that haze in the pulpit means fog in the pew." And it is a wonderfully fine thing for every speaker to remember that if his ideas are not clearly defined in his own mind, they will be still more vague in the minds of those who have to listen to him.
But in addition to thinking intensely and having your ideas in good logical order, you must be alive imaginatively and emotionally so as not only to reveal the truth to your hearers, but to reveal it effectively so that they will act upon it.
Well, now, presuming we understand all about this language--verbal expression--when we come to look at the other two-voice and body: tone and action: vocal expression and pantomimic expression--we can see that there is a difference between these two and the first, in that verbal expression--words is an acquired language and more or less provincial, whereas voice and body-tone and action--are essentially natural languages, and universal, and independent of words, are capable of expressing thought and feeling. We do not have much of a verbal vocabulary before we are three years of age, and practically every nation has its own verbal Ian, guage. On the other hand, voice and body-tone and pantomine--are, as I say, essentially natural languages, and, independent of words, are capable of expressing thought and feeling.
This is a principle of most elemental and practical importance in the art of public speaking, and because it is so important, I want to take time to emphasize it.
You can illustrate it in many different ways. I have two very common illustrations which I am likely to use. Take, for example, the simple four word sentence, "I never said that." Now, simply by bending the voice differently on each word in turn you can get at least sixteen meanings. Here they are:
I never said that.
I never said that.
I never said that.
I never said that.
I never said that?
I never said that?
I never said that?
I never said that?
(Here other circumflex inflections were used by the speaker.)
I have registered sixteen different points of view, sixteen different meanings with those four words. and I touched only a part of one vocal modulationthere are at least seven others-and I have not touched pantomine. By combining all the modulations of the voice and of the body you can get an almost unlimited number of meanings out of those words.
Another illustration which may be more practical is the common idiom of greeting: "How do you do?"
You might think of the different impressions that are made upon you every day of your lives by the way in which this greeting is said to you or at you; and, incidentally, you might think also of the different impressions you are making by saying: "How do you do?" to the various people you meet. In the morning you start off to work and you ring the changes in this way:
(Here the speaker illustrates.)
You see the importance of this fact not only in public speaking but in life itself-that voice is a language, independent of words, capable of expressing thought and feeling. When you say the most common, ordinary thing do you know how you say it?
When you tell a man to do something, when you ask him for something, do you know what impression you are making? You may be saying one thing in words, and yet in voice and action you may be saying another thing totally different from what you intended to say.
This makes the spoken word transcend the written word. If I hand out a written paragraph for each of you to interpret, I shall probably get as many varying interpretations as there are men present, because we are always reading into things our sympathies, our antipathies, our ideas; whereas if voice and body are servants of the speaker, if they are obedient to his thought and will, then it is possible for him to say things in such a way that his hearers can get only his meaning. They may disagree with him, certainly, but at the same time they cannot misunderstand him.
When once one begins the serious study of the evolution of speech he finds the most elemental thing is what we speak of as the "stream of tone." It is the easiest thing in the world for me to tell you how to get it. You only have to allow your lungs to be filled with air, at the same time keeping the throat and tone passage open, and instead of releasing it as breath you release it as tone, and you will get a sound something like this: (Speaker illustrates.) That is the stuff out of which our speech is made. I only wish it were as easy for you to get it as it is for me to tell you how to get it.
As a rule we do not breathe correctly. Just as that tone I illustrated is the stuff out of which speech is made, so proper breathing is the stuff out of which tone is made; and if you are going to speak correctly you must breathe correctly. As you know, there are different ways of breathing. If you are going to be breathed for a life insurance examination or for the army, all you are after is chest expansion, and so you go through a herculean performance, you take a deep breath, pack it in the upper part of the chest, and hold on until the tape-measure has done its work, then you let it go.
Such breathing is useless for speech purposes. When we breathe normally we find the action caused by the breathing is at the centre of the body, and the respiratory muscles are energized. It is a most happy thing that that is so, because it is these respiratory organs that furnish the motive power and control the tone in speach.
The trouble with many of us is that not energizing those muscles we cannot apply the motive power where it should be applied. You know that every musical instrument has three parts-one furnishes the motive power, another the tune, and the other the tone. In the violin the motive power is furnished by the arm through the bow, the tune by the strings, and the tone by the whole instrument. In the human instrument the motive power is furnished by these respiratory muscles, the tune by the vocal chords in the larnyx, and the tone by the whole tone passage.
The trouble, as I say, with the most of us is that not energizing these muscles by proper breathing, we do not apply the motive power here at the centre of the body, and if we do not we are most likely to apply it here in the throat; when we do this we are bound to get some sort of a throaty voice. If we wanted some fun, we could have you get up one at a time and give what you consider the normal stream of tone. Judging by past experience, we would get a medley of sounds which would be otherwise than sweet. (Laughter) I remember a student who always spoke in a nasal twang, as I am doing now. The tragical part of it was that he was a theological student, and I had a most horrible vision of him, as Mrs. Partington would say, dispensing with the gospel in that tone of voice. (Laughter)
Now not only is the motive power furnished by these respiratory muscles, but the throat and tone passage must be open and relaxed. This means that not only the throat is open, but the mouth too is open. It means that the lower jaw is dropped, so if you have a decent sized thumb you can get the breadth of it through the teeth like this. (Illustrating.) When you go home look at the mirror and talk to yourself for a while and see what you do. The chances are that a whole lot of you will find that you are simply mumbling like this: (speaker illustrates-laughter).
O wad some power the giftie gie us To see ourselves as ithers see us!
Now, our speech would be very monotonous unless we had some other modulations at hand for the purpose of getting our ideas across, and not only making ourselves understood, but speaking effectively and leading people to action. The study of these expressive modulations of voice constitutes an important part of the work of those who take up this subject seriously.
Just as briefly as I can I want to suggest the salient characteristics of some of these modulations. They always work together. Talking to you now I am using most of them. But let us look at them separately so far as we can. Those of the greatest practical importance are what we speak of as change of pitch and inflection. By change of pitch we mean precisely what the term implies-change in the pitch of the voice. In animated conversation the normal person's range is about an octave. His voice goes up and down with the greatest agility and ease and with the most delightful results.
This being so, you would think that when one gets on his feet to speak before an audience he would find it necessary to enlarge this range, but just the reverse is the case with many speakers. They seem to think it necessary to eliminate. All right. But if the speaker out of the goodness, kindness and compassion of his heart would only eliminate the higher notes which, though more penetrating perhaps, are much more disagreeable, and confine himself to the lower range, which is infinitely more agreeable" to his hearers and with which he can be much more effective, we would all be grateful.
But what happens with the average speaker? Within five minutes he gets up to the ceiling-and apparently he cannot come down! This is a painful illustration. There is no greater strain from the standpoint of both the speaker and his hearers than to have him talking at that continuous, high, narrow pitch. I have been talking to you for about twentyfive minutes; had I been talking this way all the time I would have been worn out and you would be feeling nervous, your nervousness would react upon me, and something would have to happen. If I have no modulation to help me out of my difficulty, the only thing is to break that horrible monotony by these great loud, high tones: (Speaker illustrates--laughter)
One of the things that holds me thralled as much as ever it did--and I have been in the work twenty years--is the fact that every change of voice and body has its own meaning and significance. That is true for all of you. You are speaking to me pantomimically now just the same as I am speaking to you vocally. We are always saying something: we cannot help it. Take the slightest little change in the modulation of the body. You see one man walking down the street, his chest out, his head thrown back, his arms swinging vigorously with his elbows out and his thumbs turned towards his body; that says something. You see another man with head down, arms hanging listlessly, and his thumbs turned out; he says something totally different. So you see, the slightest modulation of the body is significant. We are always speaking.
Then again, the downward trend of the voice means one thing, the upward trend another. Some voices go straight out, but that is a perversion. The downward inflection of the voice always means a positive, assertive, definite attitude of mind; the upward trend of voice means an interrogative, questioning, doubting, hesitating attitude of mind, or incompleted thought.
Of course, a lot of my work in college is with divinity students, and one of the illustrations I always give them is: Have you ever heard a parson get up in the pulpit and in a devotional monotone say: (speaker illustrates with rising inflection)We shall sing hymn 242,
Lead, kindly light,
Amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on.
Hymn 242. All sing.
The whole trouble is the dear man is not thinking of what he is saying while he is saying it. If he is an old campaigner, his mind is probably on the great sermon which is coming in a few moments. If he is a young man, he is nervous and is wondering what impression he is creating or whether he is making a fool of himself.
You cannot think of two things when you are on your feet; you cannot think of how you are doing it and speak well. There must be an intense appreciation of what you are saying when you are saying it. If the dear man was asked, "What is that number again?" the question would stimulate him and he would answer quite positively and naturally, "Hymn No. 242." Why didn't he say so at first? (Laughter) The next time you get up in lodge to read a report or address or to make an announcement watch how you do it.
Another modulation is that of tone colour, the sign of imagination and emotion. Tone color is by long odds one of the most fascinating and delightful of all vocal modulations. It is the most subtle and spontaneous of them all, and yet there is none other that is so neglected and perverted. I rather imagine that the neglect and perversion or repression of this modulation is due very largely to the general neglect of the proper development of the imagination and emotion in our whole educational system.
Once upon a time I observed the reading done in a certain large public school, and I found the best reading in the second and third forms. Here the little children had very lively imaginations and emotions, though of course they were not aware of them as such, and when they were given simple little lyrics from Tennyson, Wordsworth, Longfellow, they responded at once to the imaginative and emotional elements in those poems, and consequently their reading was normal and good.
But in the fourth form of the public school and the first year of the high school, when the children are at the changeable age from twelve to fourteen and become more or less aware of imagination and emotion in themselves, and need guidance and instruction in their development and expression, practically none is given. Consequently on account of fear of being misunderstood or laughed at they do the very natural thing, they repress all feeling, and one of the first signs of this sin of repression comes in the reading. The worst reading I found was in the higher forms and the collegiate.
One of the best ways for the average person to develop this tone color is by taking a series of short extracts of totally different type-one very commonplace, such as a weather report, another very didactic, another full of love, another of anger, another of awe and reverence, and so on, and read them in quick succession. Now, because the thought content of these passages is so decidely different, the vocal interpretation ought to be correspondingly different, yet we find the average person reads them all alike in the same commonplace, prosy fashion.
Another modulation of voice which is generally thought to be of great practical importance is that of volume, which is the quantity of tone given under normal conditions of tone production. I am very often asked, "Do tell me how to speak so that I may be heard in a large hall." Now, of course most people in asking this question think I am going to elaborate on how to increase the volume of voice. As a matter of fact, volume is only one of several things necessary for being heard by a large audience. The other essentials are, first, a pure tone-quality. Pure tone carries; whereas a rasping, rancuous, breathy, throaty voice is not likely to be heard very far. Secondly, one must have good articulation and enunciation. No matter if one speaks in a voice of thunder, if he mumbles his words people are not going to understand what he says. Thirdly, there must be plenty of change of pitch. Words bawled out in a monotone are apt to become confused, as is often illustrated by the train announcers in our railway stations. If you can do these things, speak in a pure tone, with good enunciation and plenty of change of pitch, you will probably be heard in as large a hall as you are likely to speak in without any tremendous increase in volume of voice.
Now, all these expressive modulations of voice should always be used as a means to an end, and never as an end in themselves. This is another fact which I should like to impress upon all sensible men and women. It is one of the curses of those of us who are trying to do sane work in public speaking and elocution here in Canada that apparently so many sensible people are satisfied and delighted with modulations of voice and body simply as an end in themselves.
There are two schools of public speaking or elocution. Let us say that they are both doing equally fine work in getting flexibility of voice and body. One school is quite content to use these modulations as an end in themselves; the other insists that they should always be used as a means to an end, that end being the expression of truth as simply and sincerely and effectively as possible.
You will know what I mean. For example, with another adjudicator I once listened to some eighteen girls recite Wordsworth's "Daffodils" in a contest. I expected that the reading of this lovely poem was going to afford me an afternoon of pleasure, and this is something like what I received from every one of the eighteen girls:--(speaker illustrates laughter). Now, I do not doubt for one moment that they had done serious work in obtaining flexibility of voice and body, getting the modulations well under control, and perfecting their enunciation and articulation. In fact, the latter was too perfect. I found myself enthralled simply by their articulation and enunciation. I found my ears riveted on those features of the reading, merely to see if a single consonant or word was neglected, but the girls were letter perfect. But while I was watching their articulation and enunciation, I was not hearing the words of "The Daffodils," and its beauties were lost. Their pantomine was wonderful, there was no awkwardness of gesture, but after they were done, instead of my having a better appreciation of Wordsworth's poem I had simply the memory of a lot of vocal and pantomimic frills and furbelows which in themselves meant nothing.
So I say to you, these modulations must always be used as a means to an end, and never as an end in themselves, their purpose being the expression of the truth as simply, as sincerely and as effectively as possible. It is always a dubious compliment for anyone to congratulate you on your enunciation, your articulation, the quality of your voice or your pantomine, for if he notices these things you may depend upon it he is not noticing what you are saying, and consequently your power as a speaker is to that extent limited.
The speaker was heartily applauded at the close of his interesting and instructive address, and the President, in fitting terms, expressed to him the thanks of the members.