Chapter XI. Fluency Through Preparation
Animis opibusque parati - Ready in mind and resources.
- Motto of South Carolina.
In omnibus negotiis prius quam aggrediare, adhibenda est praeparatio diligens - In all matters before beginning a diligent preparation should be made.
- Cicero, De Officiis.
Take your dictionary and look up the words that contain the Latin stem flu - the results will be suggestive.
At first blush it would seem that fluency consists in a ready, easy use of words. Not so - the flowing quality of speech is much more, for it is a composite effect, with each of its prior conditions deserving of careful notice.
The Sources Of Fluency
Speaking broadly, fluency is almost entirely a matter of preparation. Certainly, native gifts figure largely here, as in every art, but even natural facility is dependent on the very same laws of preparation that hold good for the man of supposedly small native endowment. Let this encourage you if, like Moses, you are prone to complain that you are not a ready speaker.
Have you ever stopped to analyze that expression, "a ready speaker?" Readiness, in its prime sense, is preparedness', and they are most ready who are best prepared. Quick firing depends more on the alert finger than on the hair trigger. Your fluency will be in direct ratio to two important conditions: your knowledge of what you are going to say, and your being accustomed to telling what you know to an audience. This gives us the second great element of fluency - to preparation must be added the ease that arises from practise; of which more presently.
Knowledge Is Essential
Mr. Bryan is a most fluent speaker when he speaks on political problems, tendencies of the time, and questions of morals. It is to be supposed, however, that he would not be so fluent in speaking on the bird life of the Florida Everglades. Mr. John Burroughs might be at his best on this last subject, yet entirely lost in talking about international law. Do not expect to speak fluently on a subject that you know little or nothing about. Ctesiphon boasted that he could speak all day (a sin in itself) on any subject that an audience would suggest. He was banished by the Spartans.
But preparation goes beyond the getting of the facts in the case you are to present: it includes also the ability to think and arrange your thoughts, a full and precise vocabulary, an easy manner of speech and breathing, absence of self-consciousness, and the several other characteristics of efficient delivery that have deserved special attention in other parts of this book rather than in this chapter.
Preparation may be either general or specific; usually it should be both. A life-time of reading, of companionship with stirring thoughts, of wrestling with the problems of life - this constitutes a general preparation of inestimable worth. Out of a well-stored mind, and - richer still - a broad experience, and - best of all - a warmly sympathetic heart, the speaker will have to draw much material that no immediate study could provide. General preparation consists of all that a man has put into himself, all that heredity and environment have instilled into him, and - that other rich source of preparedness for speech - the friendship of wise companions. When Schiller returned home after a visit with Goethe a friend remarked: "I am amazed by the progress Schiller can make within a single fortnight." It was the progressive influence of a new friendship. Proper friendships form one of the best means for the formation of ideas and ideals, for they enable one to practise in giving expression to thought. The speaker who would speak fluently before an audience should learn to speak fluently and entertainingly with a friend. Clarify your ideas by putting them in words; the talker gains as much from his conversation as the listener. You sometimes begin to converse on a subject thinking you have very little to say, but one idea gives birth to another, and you are surprised to learn that the more you give the more you have to give. This give-and-take of friendly conversation develops mentality, and fluency in expression. Longfellow said: "A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years' study of books," and Holmes whimsically yet none the less truthfully declared that half the time he talked to find out what he thought. But that method must not be applied on the platform!
After all this enrichment of life by storage, must come the special preparation for the particular speech. This is of so definite a sort that it warrants separate chapter-treatment later.
But preparation must also be of another sort than the gathering, organizing, and shaping of materials - it must include practise, which, like mental preparation, must be both general and special.
Do not feel surprised or discouraged if practise on the principles of delivery herein laid down seems to retard your fluency. For a time, this will be inevitable. While you are working for proper inflection, for instance, inflection will be demanding your first thoughts, and the flow of your speech, for the time being, will be secondary. This warning, however, is strictly for the closet, for your practise at home. Do not carry any thoughts of inflection with you to the platform. There you must think only of your subject. There is an absolute telepathy between the audience and the speaker. If your thought goes to your gesture, their thought will too. If your interest goes to the quality of your voice, they will be regarding that instead of what your voice is uttering.
You have doubtless been adjured to "forget everything but your subject." This advice says either too much or too little. The truth is that while on the platform you must not forget a great many things that are not in your subject, but you must not think of them. Your attention must consciously go only to your message, but subconsciously you will be attending to the points of technique which have become more or less habitual by practise.