The part of a lecture which consumes the first ten or fifteen minutes is
called the exordium, from the Latin word exordiri--to begin a web.
The invariable rule as to the manner of this part of a lecture is--begin
easy. Any speaker who breaks this rule invites almost certain disaster.
This rule has the universal endorsement of experienced speakers.
Sometimes a green speaker, bent on making a hit at once, will begin with
a burst, and in a high voice. Once begun, he feels that the pace must be
maintained or increased.
Listeners who have the misfortune to be present at such a commencement
and who do not wish to have their pity excited, had better retire at
once, for when such a speaker has been at work fifteen minutes and
should be gradually gathering strength like a broadening river, he is
really beginning to decline. From then on the lecture dies a lingering
death and the audience welcomes its demise with a sigh of relief. Such
performances are not common, as no one can make that blunder twice
before the same audience. He may try it, but if the people who heard him
before see his name on the program they will be absent.
At the beginning, the voice should be pitched barely high enough for
everybody to hear. This will bring that "hush" which should mark the
commencement of every speech. When all are quiet and settled, raise the
voice so as to be clearly heard by everybody, but no higher. Hold your
energies in reserve; if you really have a lecture, you will need them
As to the matter of the exordium, it should be preparatory to the
lecture. Here the lecturer "clears the ground" or "paves the way" for
the main question.
If the lecture is biographical and deals with the life and work of some
great man, the exordium naturally tells about his parents, birthplace
and early surroundings, etc. If some theory in science or philosophy is
the subject, the lecturer naturally uses the exordium to explain the
theory which previously occupied that ground and how it came to be
overthrown by the theory now to be discussed.
Here the way is cleared of popular misunderstandings of the question
and, if the theory is to be defended, all those criticisms that do not
really touch the question are easily and gracefully annihilated.
Here, if Darwin is to be defended, it may be shown that those
witticisms, aimed at him, about the giraffe getting its long neck by
continually stretching it, or the whale getting its tail by holding its
hind legs too close in swimming, do not apply to Darwinism, but to the
exploded theory of his great predecessor, Lamarck.
If Scientific Socialism is the question, it may be appropriately shown
in the exordium that nearly all the objections which are still urged
against it apply only to the Utopian Socialism which Socialist
literature abandoned half a century ago.
In short, the lecturer usually does in the exordium what a family party
does when, having decided to waltz a little in the parlor, they push the
table into a corner and set back the chairs--he clears a space.
Next: Begin Well