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

retreating shoulders.



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

o'clock."





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