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The Audience

A lecturer should realize his grave responsibility to his audience.
Nothing but absolute physical impossibility is a sufficient excuse for
disappointing an assembly. Have it thoroughly understood that when your
name appears on a program, you will be at your post.

Never allow, if you can possibly prevent, anybody to announce you to
speak without consulting you and getting your consent. In some cities
the method of announcing a speaker, when it is not known whether or not
he can be present and, in some cases, even when it is known he cannot,
has prevailed in the Socialist party. The temptation to do this consists
in the possibility of using a prominent name to attract a large audience
and then, with some lame excuse, put forward somebody else.

This succeeds for a time; then comes disaster. In such a city a good
meeting becomes almost impossible. With the public it is, once bit,
twice shy. For myself, if when I am announced to speak and I am not
there and there is no message in the hands of the chairman reporting my
death or some other almost equally good reason, it is almost safe to say
my name has been used without my consent.

Any lecturer who treats his audience lightly has no reason to expect it
will take him seriously. There is no lecturing future ahead of the man
who says to some disappointed auditor he meets afterward on the street:
"Well, the weather was so bad I didn't think anybody would turn out."
Suppose only ten people turned out, is not their combined inconvenience
ten times as great as that of the speaker? At least you could go and
thank those who did come, as they surely deserved, and feel that you did
your duty in the matter.

I well remember one night in San Francisco, about the twenty-first
lecture of a course in the Academy of Sciences, when it rained as only
Californians ever see it rain; it seemed to fall in a solid mass. From 6
to 7:30 it continued with no sign of let-up, and the streets began to
look like rivers.

"No meeting tonight, that's sure," I concluded as I ruefully pocketed
the notes of my lecture. But my rule compelled me to turn out and see.
To my very great astonishment the Academy was full and the admission
receipts were equal to the average. Never again, if I can help it, will
weather alone keep me from appearing at a meeting.

Another matter in which speakers should consider the feelings of their
hearers is--"don't make excuses." The audience wants to know what you
have to say about the subject, and not, why you are not better prepared.
The audience will know whether you have a cold without you taking up
time telling about it.

If you allow yourself to drift into the habit of making excuses, you
will never be able to speak without doing so, and even your best
prepared effort will be unable to get by without a stupid preamble of
meaningless apologies.

It is safe to conclude that the good impression a lecture should make is
not increased by the lecturer condemning it in advance; this is usually
done to disarm criticism, secure indulgence, and give the audience a
great notion of what you could do if you had a fair chance. But the
audience wants to see what you can do now, and not what you might
possibly have done, under other circumstances. If your lecture cannot
bear open criticism and really needs to be apologized for, then it ought
not to be delivered, and you should be sitting in the audience listening
to somebody else.

Boasting is, of course, very irritating to an audience and should be
avoided, but want of courage and self-confidence is almost as
deplorable. Of course there is no merit in self-confidence that is not
well founded in sterling ability.

Somebody said, "The man who knows not, and knows not that he knows not,
is ignorant, avoid him; the man who knows not, and knows that he knows
not, is simple, teach him; the man who knows, and knows not that he
knows, is timid, encourage him; the man who knows, and knows that he
knows, is wise, follow him."

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Previous: Rhetoric

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