Course Lecturing No Chairman
The very first essential to successful course lecturing is--no chairman.
On three different occasions I have tried to deliver a long course of
lectures with a chairman, as a concession to comrades who disagreed with
me. One learns by experience, however, and I shall never repeat the
Anyone who suggested that university course lectures should have a
presiding chairman would get no serious hearing. All the course
lecturers now before the public dispense with chairmen. It is a case of
survival of the fittest; the course lecturers who had chairmen didn't
know their business and they disappeared. This does not apply to a
series of three or four lectures, for in that case when the speaker has
become familiar with his audience, and the chairman should be dispensed
with, his work is done and a new speaker appears who needs to be
Course lecturing is by far the most difficult of all forms of lecturing.
The beginner will not, of course, attempt it. There are shoals of
speakers of over five years' experience who are not capable of more than
two lectures; many of the best are exhausted by half a dozen. A course
of thirty to fifty is a gigantic task, and no one who realizes how great
it is will throw a straw in the lecturer's way. To insist on his having
a chairman could hardly be called a straw; it would more nearly approach
a stick of dynamite.
I take up this question because it is certain that this method of
lecturing will increase among Socialists in the future and we should
learn to avoid sources of disaster.
Now, I will give reasons. First, in course lectures the chairman has no
functions; he is entirely superfluous. There are no points of order or
procedure to be decided, and the speaker does not need to be introduced.
There are notices to be announced, but these are better left with the
lecturer for many reasons. They give him a chance to clear his throat,
find the proper pitch of his voice, and get into communication with his
audience; then, when he begins his lecture he can do his best from the
very first word.
If the lecturer knows that the entire program is in his own hands he is
saved a great deal of irritation and nervousness. How well I remember
those little disputes with the chair when I knew the meeting was lagging
late and the chairman insisted we should wait until a few more came.
The speaker's request for a good collection will usually bring from
twenty to forty per cent better results than if it came from a chairman.
In announcing the next lecture the speaker is usually able, by telling
what ground he will cover, etc., to arouse the interest of the audience
so that they make up their minds to attend.
Poor chairmen blunder along and make bad "breaks" which irritate both
audience and speaker, while good chairmen feel they are doing nothing
that could not be better done by the speaker and, that they are really
only in his way.
I have only met two kinds of men who insist that the course lecturer
should be handicapped with a chairman; those who say it gives him too
much power--an argument that belongs to the sucking bottle stage of our
movement--and those who enjoy acting as chairman.
I should be slow to mention the latter, but alas! my own experience so
conclusively proves it, and the peculiarity of human nature, in or out
of our movement is, that it is wonderfully human.
There are very few of us who do not enjoy sitting in plain view of a
large audience and, when any good purpose is to be served, it is a very
But if we have no better end to gain than standing between a speaker and
his audience and, though with the best intentions in the world, adding
to the difficulties of a task that is already greater than most of us
would care to face, for the sake of our great cause, and that it may be
the more ably defended, let us refrain.
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