Chapter XVIII. Subject And Preparation
Suit your topics to your strength. And ponder well your subject, and its length; Nor lift your load, before you're quite aware What weight your shoulders will, or will not, bear.
- Byron, Hints from Horace.
Look to this day, for it is life - the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence: the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty. For yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is only a vision; but today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day. Such is the salutation of the dawn.
- From the Sanskrit.
In the chapter preceding we have seen the influence of "Thought and Reserve Power" on general preparedness for public speech. But preparation consists in something more definite than the cultivation of thought-power, whether from original or from borrowed sources - it involves a specifically acquisitive attitude of the whole life. If you would become a full soul you must constantly take in and assimilate, for in that way only may you hope to give out that which is worth the hearing; but do not confuse the acquisition of general information with the mastery of specific knowledge. Information consists of a fact or a group of facts; knowledge is organized information - knowledge knows a fact in relation to other facts.
Now the important thing here is that you should set all your faculties to take in the things about you with the particular object of correlating them and storing them for use in public speech. You must hear with the speaker's ear, see with the speaker's eye, and choose books and companions and sights and sounds with the speaker's purpose in view. At the same time, be ready to receive unplanned-for knowledge. One of the fascinating elements in your life as a public speaker will be the conscious growth in power that casual daily experiences bring. If your eyes are alert you will be constantly discovering facts, illustrations, and ideas without having set out in search of them. These all may be turned to account on the platform; even the leaden events of hum-drum daily life may be melted into bullets for future battles.
Conservation Of Time In Preparation
But, you say, I have so little time for preparation - my mind must be absorbed by other matters. Daniel Webster never let an opportunity pass to gather material for his speeches. When he was a boy working in a sawmill he read out of a book in one hand and busied himself at some mechanical task with the other. In youth Patrick Henry roamed the fields and woods in solitude for days at a time unconsciously gathering material and impressions for his later service as a speaker. Dr. Russell H. Conwell, the man who, the late Charles A. Dana said, had addressed more hearers than any living man, used to memorize long passages from Milton while tending the boiling syrup-pans in the silent New England woods at night. The modern employer would discharge a Webster of today for inattention to duty, and doubtless he would be justified, and Patrick Henry seemed only an idle chap even in those easy-going days; but the truth remains: those who take in power and have the purpose to use it efficiently will some day win to the place in which that stored-up power will revolve great wheels of influence.
Napoleon said that quarter hours decide the destinies of nations. How many quarter hours do we let drift by aimlessly! Robert Louis Stevenson conserved all his time; every experience became capital for his work - for capital may be defined as "the results of labor stored up to assist future production." He continually tried to put into suitable language the scenes and actions that were in evidence about him. Emerson says: "Tomorrow will be like today. Life wastes itself whilst we are preparing to live."
Why wait for a more convenient season for this broad, general preparation? The fifteen minutes that we spend on the car could be profitably turned into speech-capital.
Procure a cheap edition of modern speeches, and by cutting out a few pages each day, and reading them during the idle minute here and there, note how soon you can make yourself familiar with the world's best speeches. If you do not wish to mutilate your book, take it with you - most of the epoch-making books are now printed in small volumes. The daily waste of natural gas in the Oklahoma fields is equal to ten thousand tons of coal. Only about three per cent of the power of the coal that enters the furnace ever diffuses itself from your electric bulb as light - the other ninety-seven per cent is wasted. Yet these wastes are no larger, nor more to be lamented, than the tremendous waste of time which, if conserved, would increase the speaker's powers to their nth degree. Scientists are making three ears of corn grow where one grew before; efficiency engineers are eliminating useless motions and products from our factories: catch the spirit of the age and apply efficiency to the use of the most valuable asset you possess - time. What do you do mentally with the time you spend in dressing or in shaving? Take some subject and concentrate your energies on it for a week by utilizing just the spare moments that would otherwise be wasted. You will be amazed at the result. One passage a day from the Book of Books, one golden ingot from some master mind, one fully-possessed thought of your own might thus be added to the treasury of your life. Do not waste your time in ways that profit you nothing. Fill "the unforgiving minute" with "sixty seconds' worth of distance run" and on the platform you will be immeasurably the gainer.
Let no word of this, however, seem to decry the value of recreation. Nothing is more vital to a worker than rest - yet nothing is so vitiating to the shirker. Be sure that your recreation re-creates. A pause in the midst of labors gathers strength for new effort. The mistake is to pause too long, or to fill your pauses with ideas that make life flabby.