Learn To Stop
The platform has no greater nuisance than that interminable bore--the
speaker who cannot stop. Of all platform vices this is about the worst.
The speaker who acquires a reputation for it becomes a terror instead of
an attraction to an audience.
As a rule there is no audience when his name is the only item on the
card; he gets his chance speaking with some one else whom the listeners
have really come to hear. And this is just when his performance is least
desirable. Either he gets in before the real attraction and taxes
everybody's patience, or he follows and addresses his remarks to
I met a man recently who had made quite a name in his own town as a
speaker, and his townsmen visiting other cities proudly declared him a
coming Bebel. I took the first opportunity to hear him. He had a good
voice and was a ready speaker, but I soon found he carried a burden that
more than balanced all his merits--he simply could not stop.
I heard him again when the committee managing the program had especially
warned him not to speak more than thirty minutes. At the end of forty he
was sailing along as though eternity was at his disposal. Three
different times, at intervals of about ten minutes, they passed him
notes asking him to stop. He read them in plain view of an audience
which knew what they meant, and then tried to close, and finally did so,
not by finishing his speech, but by shutting his mouth and walking off
the platform. The next item was something which the audience had paid
money to enjoy, but many had to leave to catch a last car home. As they
passed me near the door, the men swore and the women came as near to it
as they dared. And yet the speaker complained afterward of his treatment
by the committee. When he began he received a fine ovation; had he
finished at the end of thirty minutes he would have covered himself with
glory; he spoke an hour and a quarter and most of those present hoped
they would never be obliged to listen to him again.
I thought somebody ought to play the part of candid friend, and I told
him next day how it looked to me.
He said: "I guess you are right; I believe I'll get a watch."
But this malady is usually much deeper than the question of having a
watch. This speaker acquired it while addressing street meetings. A
street audience is always changing in some degree. A hall lecture is not
required and would be out of place. The auditors decide when they have
had enough and leave the meeting unnoticed and the speaker launches out
again on another question with fifty per cent of his audience new and
his hopping from question to question, and ending with good-night for a
peroration is quite proper on a street corner. Not only is it proper,
but it is very successful, and good street speakers cultivate that
method. This is why men who are excellent street speakers and who get
their training out doors are usually such flat failures in a hall.
Even when all is going well, an audience or some part of it will grow
uneasy toward the close, not because they cannot stay ten or fifteen
minutes longer, but because they do not know whether the lecturer is
going to close in ten minutes or thirty.
An experienced lecturer will always detect that uneasiness in moving
feet or rustling clothes, and at the first appropriate period will look
at his watch and say, in a quiet but decided tone, "I shall conclude in
ten minutes," or whatever time he requires. Then those who cannot wait
so long will at once withdraw, the rest will settle down to listen and
harmony will be restored.
But woe to the speaker who forgets his pledge and thinks he may take
advantage of that restored quiet to go beyond the time he stated. Next
time he speaks before that audience and they become restless he will
have no remedy.
It is better to have your hearers say, "I could have listened another
hour," than "It would have been better if he had finished by ten