Subject And Preparation. Part 2
Choosing A Subject
Subject and materials tremendously influence each other.
"Arbitrary choice .... of one subject from among a number involves so many important considerations that no speaker ever fails to appreciate the tone of satisfaction in him who triumphantly announces: 'I have a subject!'
" 'Do give me a subject!' How often the weary school teacher hears that cry. Then a list of themes is suggested, gone over, considered, and, in most instances, rejected, because the teacher can know but imperfectly what is in the pupil's mind. To suggest a subject in this way is like trying to discover the street on which a lost child lives, by naming over a number of streets until one strikes the little one's ear as sounding familiar.
"Choice by development is a very different process. It does not ask, What shall I say? It turns the mind in upon itself and asks, What do I think? Thus, the subject may be said to choose itself, for in the process of thought or of reading one theme rises into prominence and becomes a living germ, soon to grow into the discourse. He who has not learned to reflect is not really acquainted with his own thoughts; hence, his thoughts are not productive. Habits of reading and reflection will supply the speaker's mind with an abundance of subjects of which he already knows something from the very reading and reflection which gave birth to his theme. This is not a paradox, but sober truth.
"It must be already apparent that the choice of a subject by development savors more of collection than of conscious selection. The subject 'pops into the mind.' . . . . In the intellect of the trained thinker it concentrates - by a process which we have seen to be induction - the facts and truths of which he has been reading and thinking. This is most often a gradual process. The scattered ideas may be but vaguely connected at first, but more and more they concentrate and take on a single form, until at length one strong idea seems to grasp the soul with irresistible force, and to cry aloud, 'Arise, I am your theme! Henceforth, until you transmute me by the alchemy of your inward fire into vital speech, you shall know no rest!' Happy, then, is that speaker, for he has found a subject that grips him.
"Of course, experienced speakers use both methods of selection. Even a reading and reflective man is sometimes compelled to hunt for a theme from Dan to Beersheba, and then the task of gathering materials becomes a serious one. But even in such a case there is a sense in which the selection comes by development, because no careful speaker settles upon a theme which does not represent at least some matured thought."1
Deciding On The Subject Matter
Even when your theme has been chosen for you by someone else, there remains to you a considerable field for choice of subject matter. The same considerations, in fact, that would govern you in choosing a theme must guide in the selection of the material. Ask yourself - or someone else - such questions as these: l How to Attract and Hold an Audience, J. Berg Esenwein.
What is the precise nature of the occasion? How large an audience may be expected? From what walks of life do they come? What is their probable attitude toward the theme? Who else will speak? Do I speak first, last, or where, on the program? What are the other speakers going to talk about? What is the nature of the auditorium? Is there a desk? Could the subject be more effectively handled if somewhat modified? Precisely how much time am I to fill?
It is evident that many speech-misfits of subject, speaker, occasion and place are due to failure to ask just such pertinent questions. What should be said, by whom, and in what circumstances, constitute ninety per cent of efficiency in public address. No matter who asks you, refuse to be a square peg in a round hole.
Questions Of Proportion
Proportion in a speech is attained by a nice adjustment of time. How fully you may treat your subject it is not always for you to say. Let ten minutes mean neither nine nor eleven - though better nine than eleven, at all events. You wouldn't steal a man's watch; no more should you steal the time of the succeeding speaker, or that of the audience. There is no need to overstep time-limits if you make your preparation adequate and divide your subject so as to give each thought its due proportion of attention - and no more. Blessed is the man that maketh short speeches, for he shall be invited to speak again.
Another matter of prime importance is, what part of your address demands the most emphasis. This once decided, you will know where to place that pivotal section so as to give it the greatest strategic value, and what degree of preparation must be given to that central thought so that the vital part may not be submerged by nonessentials. Many a speaker has awakened to find that he has burnt up eight minutes of a ten-minute speech in merely getting up steam. That is like spending eighty per cent of your building-money on the vestibule of the house. The same sense of proportion must tell you to stop precisely when you are through - and it is to be hoped that you will discover the arrival of that period before your audience does.
Tapping Original Sources
The surest way to give life to speech-material is to gather your facts at first hand. Your words come with the weight of authority when you can say, "I have examined the employment rolls of every mill in this district and find that thirty-two per cent of the children employed are under the legal age." No citation of authorities can equal that. You must adopt the methods of the reporter and find out the facts underlying your argument or appeal. To do so may prove laborious, but it should not be irksome, for the great world of fact teems with interest, and over and above all is the sense of power that will come to you from original investigation. To see and feel the facts you are discussing will react upon you much more powerfully than if you were to secure the facts at second hand.