Said Francis Bacon, the author of "Novum Organum," "Reading maketh a
full man, writing an exact man, and conversation a ready man."
The first in importance of these is to be "a full man." The lecturer
should not deliver himself on any subject unless he has read about all
there is of value on that question.
If, when you read, the words all run together in the first few minutes,
or, you invariably get a headache about the third page, let lecturing
alone. Remember that there must be listeners as well as lecturers, and
you may make a good listener, a quality none too common, but, as for
lecturing, you have about as much chance of success as a man who could
not climb ten rungs of a ladder without going dizzy, would have as a
The speaker who writes out his speech and commits it to memory and then
recites it, has at least, this in his favor: his performance represents
great labor. An audience usually is, and should be, very lenient with
anyone who has obviously labored hard for its benefit.
Writing out a speech has many advantages, and beginners especially
should practice it extensively. It gives one precision or, as Bacon puts
it, makes an "exact" man. It gives one experience in finding the correct
If you have not learned to find the right word at your desk where you
have time to reflect, how do you suppose you will find it on the
platform where you must go on?
In trying a passage in your study it is well to stand about as you would
on a platform. My friend Jack London assured me that when he took to the
platform his chief difficulty arose from never having learned to think
on his feet.
Writing is also a great test of the value of a point. Many a point that
looks brilliant when you first conceive it turns out badly when you try
to write it out. On the other hand, an unpromising idea may prove quite
fertile when tried out with a pen. It is better to make these
discoveries in your study than before your audience.
As to conversation and its making a "ready" man, a better method
perhaps, is to argue the matter out with a mirror, or the wall, in about
the same manner and style as you expect to use on the platform.
To practice before one or two persons in the style you expect to adopt
before an audience is so inherently incompatible with the different
circumstances, that I don't believe anybody ever made it succeed. It is
far better to be alone, especially when working out your most important
points, and building your opening and closing sentences.
Probably the best form of lecturing is to speak from a few pages of
notes. A clearly defined skeleton, in a lecture, as in an animal, is the
sure sign of high organization, while it is desirable to fill in the
flesh and clothes with a pen beforehand, it will be well to learn to
deliver it to the public with nothing but the skeleton before you.
In course lectures, quotations must be read, as a rule, as there is not
time enough between lectures to commit them to memory. But where the
same lecture is given repeatedly before different audiences, this
condition does not exist, and the quotations should be memorized.
Frequent quotations, from the best authorities, is one of the marks of a
good lecture, as of a good book.
A good plan is to write out the skeleton of the lecture fully at first,
say fifteen or twenty note book pages, then think it carefully over and
condense to about ten. A really good, well organized lecture where the
lecturer has had ample time, or when he has already delivered it a few
times, should be reducible to one or two pages of notes.
This skeletonizing is a good test of a lecture. A mere collection of
words has no skeleton. Instead of comparing with a mammal at the top of
the organic scale, it is like a formless, undifferentiated protozoon at
As an example of a skeleton, here are the notes of the lecture with
which I closed the season at the Garrick in May, 1907:
SOCIALISM AND MODERN ETHICAL SCIENCE
(1) The general confusion on this question.
(2) The inroads of positive science into this field.
(3) The historical schools of Ethics:
(1) The Theological.
(2) The intuitional.
(3) The utilitarian.
(1) Define these;
(4) Modern science endorses utilitarianism.
(5) This still leaves unsettled the problem of who
shall determine what is of utility to society?
(6) Marx gave the answer--The ruling class.
(7) They rule because they control society's foundation,
its mode of production.
(8) The working class, in order to enforce its own
ethics must control society at its base; it must take
possession of the means of production.
When I first delivered this lecture I had about twenty pages of notes
nearly twice the size of this book page, the three items, "define,"
"explain," "criticize," taking half a dozen.
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