Why you should study public speaking if you are never going to speak in public
“Nothing in life is to be feared, only understood.” Marie Curie
There is, of course, no such thing as going from the cradle to the grave without ever speaking in public. Your audience may not number in the thousands, but you have an audience. The average person speaks over 5000 words a day, and that’s a great deal of talking to have done in private! Every day, as soon as you speak to someone, your voice makes an impression. Your audience of one, or three or seven, decides right at that point if you are cheerful, tired, upset, impatient or optimistic. They decide if they would enjoy more of your company, or would just as soon you were on your way. You may never want to use your voice to recruit your fellow citizens to cast their vote in your behalf, but if you’d like the sales clerk to check something in the stockroom for you, you stand a better chance if your voice is pleasing to her.
It is not just for you that we say a speech course is important. It is for those speeches to which we listen. Daily you form the core of your convictions by listening to what other people are telling you. On the radio, on the TV, from the pulpit and in the public forum you are told what others would like you to think, what they want you to join, how they expect your support and how they demand you cast your ballot. Usually, they are polished, effective speakers. They know exactly what they are doing – and so should you.
Supposing someone wants you to accept a proposition she is not entirely sure you’re going to buy. In the back of your mind, you have an idea what she is going to say, and you’re sceptical about it. You’re sitting there with a” well, let’s hear what you’ve got to say” attitude. Then the speaker walks up to the mike, smiles and tells you a funny story usually ridiculous embarrassing thing where she is the butt of the joke. Pretty soon you are laughing with her. Did you ever try to argue with someone who has you laughing? It’s a pretty difficult thing to do. Twenty minutes later you’re saying,” She really is a down-to-earth person. I thought she was great and what she said made a lot of sense, too”. Did it? Let’s hope so.
How about the speaker who wants to convince you of his point of view? He may start on common ground. Something in the line of a question that will get a sure ‘yes’. “I’m sure we all love our country?” He enlarges upon it – “We are proud to be Americans,” etc. Heads all over the hall nod ‘yes’. A second statement, “We work hard for what we have. Our fathers fought for freedom, our brothers and sisters fought for it, and our sons and daughters fought. Many of you sitting here tonight fought.” Watch all the heads nodding and affirming. The third statement, “We don’t want to see anyone hungry in our country,” etc., etc. More ‘ yes , true , yes’ nods by a large majority of the audience. No one knows exactly why three ‘yes’ answers equal four ‘yes’ answers, but any teacher of Platform Art will confirm that it works. Even the boy at your door selling anything has his sale almost assured if he can first get you to agree that 1) it’s a nice day, 2) you live on a well- kept street, and 3) your dog is the greatest.
How about the way questions are answered? Do you always hear the answer?
If the politician says: “I’m glad you asked that it gives me a chance to tell you …” I’ll bet if you were really listening you didn’t hear the question that you asked, answered.
If you mention that you understand from TV reports that the Starvation Awareness program the speaker has just praised has not given one cent of its money to relieve starvation, and you’d like to know if this is true, and the speaker says-
“That is an interesting comment- I didn’t happen to see that program, but even more pertinent” etc., etc. or ” First let me tell you …”
Where’s your answer?
How about people who endorsements to persuade? “The Veterans of Foreign Wars are behind me 100% – to a man. How about you?” He may be exaggerating a bit. Or association “The party of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and me ! ”
Do you know what you are listening to, and why you are forming opinions? You should.
Is this manner of presentation wrong? No, absolutely not! If you have a good product, or a worthwhile cause, why shouldn’t you offer it in the most attractive way possible? You should. If you believe in something and want support it would be foolish not to seek it as effectively as possible, wouldn’t it? Because something is well packaged doesn’t mean it is defective. What the speaker is saying may be exactly right and deserving of complete co- operation. It is simply prudent of you to know exactly why you enrolled in a cause. It is the duty of every person today to immunise himself or herself against manipulation and to do this you must be able to distinguish the gift from the wrapping. Fancy boxes are fun, but they don’t always indicate the value of the article inside. Know what you are buying and why. If you sit in a good Public Speaking class and never say a word, but you learn how to listen, you have become a far wiser person.
When Adolf Hitler spoke, he was one of the most dynamic, enthused and forceful speakers of his time. A man who listened to him in person once said he could not disagree with Hitler while he was speaking. Only after he went home and reviewed the talk in his mind, step by step, could he see the diabolical fallacies in Hitler’s plans. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more powerful for good or evil than the human voice. Understand it- it is your privilege and your duty.
Maureen Hanigan, Secrets of Successful Speaking 1980