William Ewart Gladstone, one of the most generally admired orators the
English house of commons ever listened to, spoke at an average of 100
words a minute. Phillips Brooks, the brilliant American preacher,
maintained a rate of 215 words a minute and was a terror to the
stenographers engaged to report him.
He succeeded as a speaker, not because of his speed, but in spite of it;
because his enunciation was perfect and every word was cut off clear and
distinct. But very few men succeed with such a handicap, and Brooks
would have done much better if he could have reduced his speed 40 per
The average person in an audience thinks slowly, and the lecturer should
aim to meet the requirements of at least a large majority of those
present, and not merely those in the assembly who happen to be as well
informed as the lecturer, and could therefore keep pace with him, no
matter how rapidly he proceeds. New ideas need to be weighed as well as
heard, and the power of weighing is less rapid than the sense of
hearing. This is why a pause at the proper place is so helpful.
A young lecturer had in his audience on one occasion a veteran of the
platform, and was on that account anxious to do his best. This
situation, as all new speakers know, is very disconcerting, and after
the young aspirant had rushed through his opening argument pretty well,
as he thought, lo, his memory slipped a cog and he waited in silence,
what seemed to him an age, until it caught again. Then he continued to
the end without a stop. After the meeting the veteran came forward to
shake hands. "Have you any advice for me?" said the young man, that
awful breakdown looming large in his mind.
"Yes," said the senior, "cultivate the pause."
One of the lecturer's most valuable assets is variety of pace, and this
is almost entirely lost by the speaker whose speed is always high.
Observe two men arguing in conversation where there is no thought of art
or oratory. Where the remarks are of an explanatory nature the words
come slowly and carefully. When persuasion becomes the object,
deliberation is thrown aside and words begin to flow like a mountain
freshet, and if the speaker has natural capacity he concludes his point
with a grand rush that carries everything before it.
When a speaker carefully selects his words and it is clear to the
audience that he is deliberately weighing and measuring his sentences,
his listeners are unconsciously impressed with a sense of their
Of course, deliberation may be overdone, and if the audience once gets
the impression that the speaker is slow and does not move along more
quickly because he cannot, the effect is disastrous.
Deliberation is closely akin to seriousness and the lecturer who has no
great and serious question to present should retire from the platform
and try vaudeville.
It is just here that the Socialist has a great advantage, for his theme
is the most serious and tremendous that ever occupied the mind of man.
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