Public Speaking Requires Concentration

Especially would I urge upon the speaker the importance of concentration. If there is any-thing under the sun that requires the full concentration of every faculty a man possesses, of every ounce a man has in him that thing is Public Speaking. In his big hour before his audience, or his little moment, as the case may be, his brain power must be at its best, his body alive to the finger tips. With perfect coordination, he becomes as an instrument through which Divine Power plays. Organize all your faculties for the test. In a’former chapter I gave as an illustration the pile of leaves which were set on fire by focusing the rays of the sun upon them with a sun-glass. Just so the speaker can take a pile of ideas, arrange them, focus on them the lens of his mind, concentrate all his powers on them, until they burn and blaze with the fire of feeling. If there is anything in all this world which requires and demands the full concentration of every faculty man possesses, that thing is Public Speaking, the occasion which demands that a man give of his best in his hour before his audience. In his excellent little book, The Use of the Margin, Mr. Griggs states that there are just two great secrets which enable one to make the most of life—and the first of these is concentration. Surely it is the chief secret of great achievement in speaking before an audience.

The sweep of the mind, the grasp of the memory, the coordination of all your natural powers, depend on it. Without it, all fall short or fail. Even the rays of the mighty sun were powerless when scattered, but when focused in full concentrated attention on one spot, the spark of fire leaped in response.

“Attention is the microscope of the mental eye. ‘Its power may be high or low; its field of view narrow or broad. When high power is used attention is confined within very circumscribed limits, but its action is exceedingly intense and absorbing. It sees but few things, but these few are observed ` through and through.’ . . . Mental energy and activity, whether of perception or of thought, thus concentrated, act like the sun’s rays concentrated by the burning glass. The object is illumined, heated, set on fire. Impressions are so deep that they can never be effaced. Attention of this sort is the prime condition of the most productive mental labor.”

Without concentration a speech becomes a weak and listless thing; a ” feeble effort “; with concentration it has animation, vitality, life.

Visualization helps concentration, and in Public Speaking it is much easier to focus the mental camera, as well as the attention of an audience, upon concrete pictures. As you prepare your speech, remember that depth of impression is what counts. ” One intense hour will do more than a day of indifferent attention “—A few minutes of steady undivided concentration will accomplish more than hours of scattered thinking. For extemporaneous speaking, association is constantly called into use, while repetition must be relied upon to a great extent in memorizing the formal speech which is to be delivered by rote. Again we refer to Practical Public Speaking for farther information on the different modes of presentation.


There are several methods of delivering an address; committing your talk and speaking it from memory by rote—speaking from notes—and speaking extemporaneously are the methods generally used. Reading from manuscript need never be considered, for it does not come within the scope of Practical Speaking. Unless you are President of the United States and dare not risk being misquoted on a single word, or unless you are so lazy that you do not care to prepare your ideas so that you are able to speak them, do not consider reading your talk. It isn’t safe with a modern audience. Speaking from notes is a makeshift rather than a method, and is not to be commended. It also has a tendency to weaken the memory.


Delivering a carefully written speech from memory is justified in some cases, especially when the speaker is skilful enough to deliver it as though it had not been memorized. ‘ But it takes an artist to do this. This method, however, has certain advantages. You can avoid a negative beginning or a weak finish by carefully memorizing the Introduction and the Conclusion. The opening and the closing of a speech should never be left to chance. You can write and re-write, perfect and polish the literary form until you have a finished product. It allows a finish and perfection which no other method can give. It is the way to develop a masterpiece. On the other hand, there are many disadvantages. The delivery is very likely to be mechanical, lacking freshness and spontaneity because the speaker is not conscious of the content of his words as he utters them. If he forgets a word or a line, he is likely to become confused and to upset his whole speech. In thinking of the form, he may fall into the habit of speaking without thinking as he speaks—a very grave fault. Unless he puts the thought back of each word, that word has but little force. When an audience detects a memorized talk, they are inclined to resent it. Yet all these obstacles can be overcome, and this method has been used successfully by many of our greatest lecturers.


The best way to learn to speak without preparation is first to learn to speak with preparation. The term extemporaneous, of course, implies some preparation. Weinans has defined it as “A speech not written out in full.” Do not confuse extemporaneous speaking with impromptu speaking. The line of distinction is very clear. Impromptu means that the talk is given without any preparation whatever, but the extemporaneous talk is the result of considerable preparation. The speaker has thought it over thoroughly, without carefully arranging his subject matter, perhaps, or fixing it definitely in mind with regard to form and phraseology. He has a general idea of what he wishes to say but depends oil himself to formulate it as he speaks. In other words, extemporaneous speaking is the art of thinking on your feet. But extemporaneous speech does not mean unprepared speech, though it is often made to mean that. In fact, to meet the demand of speaking fluently and intelligently without notes, much advance thinking is necessary. ” Young man,” Webster once said, ” there is no such thing as extemporaneous acquisition.”


To the student of Practical Speaking I would commend a modified form of extempore speech, or rather a combination of the Extemporaneous and the Prepared talk. I call this the Ideal Method, because it combines the two most important essentials of effective speech—adequate preparation and close communication.

It is by far the most popular with audiences, because they respond to the vigor of it, while they appreciate its quality. Write out and commit to memory the most important parts of your talk, the first part of the Introduction, and the Conclusion; the climaxes and outstanding points:of your message—quotations and other striking or significant passages which you may wish to give in finished form, word for word, and then depend on your logical outline, the inspiration of the occasion and a wide-awake brain for the language needed for the rest of your talk. This gives you the advantage of the finish and form of a memorized speech, plus the freedom and directness of the purely extemporaneous talk. It brings you before your audience with a full mind, a thorough grasp of your proposition, yet leaves you free to profit by the inspiration of the moment, to react to your audience and to make any changes demanded by the occasion. You can it put your heart into it ” as you speak, and still hold to a standard of utterance which will read well in cold print the next day. This is the favorite method of the majority of our effective speakers to-day. Another advantage is that it offers the speaker an excellent opportunity to use grouping or combination in his memorizing. Always keep clearly in mind that every speech has three parts: the introduction—the body and the conclusion—and in making your preparatory outlines, group all material under these heads. It is wonderful how this helps to fix the material in your mind and in the proper order and place. Sequence is also a great aid both in the preparation and recollection of a speech. Sequence may be defined as ” a coming after, a following up order as regards space, time or thought,” or a succession of events made in the order of their occurrence ! It lends itself admirably to the ideal method and stimulates the power of analysis on the part of the speaker as he prepares his address. Beyond all question, analytical memorizing is of paramount importance to a speaker. This, in a nutshell, is the Ideal Method. And, you will note, it makes considerable demand upon the memory.






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