Building up the Conversation (part 10)
The Art of Speaking
A man of the world will know another man from the moment the latter speaks. Words and the way he speaks reveal the man : his culture, his education, his status, his standing, his capability, his attainments. The art of speaking is an inborn art, but may also be acquired with practice, as Demosthenes, the Greek orator, acquired the art of elocution overcoming his slitter. It is also true that in the close circle of friends and relatives, a person may speak with ease and impress, but ordinarily people are wont to speak in a careless manner and so the art of speaking well is a treasure that belongs to only a few.
Speaking and Speech-making
When any person speaks in public, he is bound by conditions not applicable in the drawing-room; speech-making calls for a different manner. The speaker on the platform speaks because he has something to say and feels that he is competent to deliver the message to his audience. If this speaker is shaky, if his voice cracks or is not audible, if he cannot rouse the feelings of the audience to the desired pitch, or if he cannot transmit his ideas to those who are listening to him, he is sure to fail in his mission. When Burke delivered his historic speech at the trial of Lord Warren Hastings causing many members of the fair sex to swoon, when Antony, at the funeral of Caesar, roused the mob against the establishment, when Swami Vivekananda spoke in Chicago, when Nehru addressed millions of Indians through his famous tryst with destiny speech and when Churchill made his 'blood, sweat and tears' peroration against the Nazis in world war II, none had to be told that he had a speaker before him.
Speech-making thus signifies personal involvement. There is the devoted zeal of conveying to all the thoughts of righteousness, morality, equality, and truth. There is the great longing to train and transform, and the skill to create an effect which will move the audience to action. None of these things are present in day-to-day conversations or even the conversation that are held with guests and others at ceremonies, receptions and such other social occasions. while speaking at different types of conversational sessions, one has to conform to the rules that will afford maximum benefit and satisfaction to those engaged in conversation. but here also art is necessary. The same words and expressions will seem different if said with authority or humility, as the case may be. A request may be as forceful as an order if accompanied by laughter and the right intonation.
Those with the inborn gift of good speech need not fear of ever being at a loss though they should be careful not to become garrulous. The proverb, ' Empty vessels make most sound', is very apt here. This is because a gifted speaker knows that his audience is impressed by his jugglery of words even though he may not have anything of any great value to say. The temptation to depend solely on one's words should be eschewed.
Intonation means the different degrees or nuances, variations, the rise and fall and tempo of speaking which make certain speeches more appealing than others. The various stresses and accents on words and expressions, the right number of pauses and repetitions, all contribute to the charm of the speech. Correct pronunciation as also its different versions, the cultured, 'city-bred', modern or even slang, adds novelty to a speech and makes it spicy, but slang should not be allowed to become 'staple'.
Intonation and Impression are closely related in this sense. Intonation is made use of to make the speech impressive and effective and so it can also change the meaning. A simple word like 'no' can, by varying the intonation, register a negative (a flat 'no'), surprise - 'no' (really?), horror ('no!). intonation is very closely related to style and depends much on how the individual put across the support of his words.
An affected style in the bane of conversation, and any person who is training himself to speak should be particularly careful that his style does not clash with his personality. To copy a cinema hero, a foreigner, a popular personality may, instead of impressing others, turn a man into a laughing stock. But when a person develops a manner of speech suited to his personality, his particular disposition, no matter how he speaks, whether he speaks slowly or quickly, calmly or noisily, he will command respect and gain the instant attention of his audience.
The Power of speech does not necessarily have much to do with etiquette and manners. If we make a survey, we shall find that the so-called lower classes have a much greater and more effective manner of speech than the so called educated elite. This is because they have fewer inhibitions. Railway porters, handcart-pushers, urchins and even vagabonds are far more powerful speakers than the ordinary or average middle-class gentleman. The former classes do not practice restraint of any kind and say whatever comes to their mind, whereas a middle- class, 'educated' person thinks twice before speaking and sometimes totally desists from speech. vulgarities, obscenities, shouts and demands for their rights will flow from the former's lips with a gusto and volley that will surprise many. They have no use for manners or proper speech and the practice of speaking out without restraint certainly adds a kind of crude force to their speech that the gently-bred do not much care to acquire.
From the above, it follows that restraint can also be an impediment or hindrance to speech-improvement. Nevertheless, if we are to exist in society, we have to keep to the rules of co-operation and co-existence and so we cannot say anything and everything that comes to our mind. All sensible and adult persons cultivate the habit of curbing their speech while speaking to others. Only children are excused for saying unwarranted and unintended things, but then this also reflects on the training they are receiving and their background. From the manners of the child the background of the parents may often be inferred. A polite and well-behaved child reflects the good manners that its parents and family have inculcated in it.
Thus, manners are important for a conversationalist who banks on his speaking power to get on in life. Different situations of conversation call for different types of manners. One speaks to one's elders and superiors, one's compatriots, one's fellowmen and colleagues and, of course, to one's friend and relatives. In all these case, this person will fare well if he knows the way these situations should be handled. Thus while he may laugh loudly among his friends and equals, he may only nod and smile before his superiors and may not speak unless spoken to. Similarly, in the company of strangers, a person should know what things can be asked and which topics may be discussed. One does not ask personal questions of strangers, nor does one launch into a diatribe against prominent personalities without knowing the political inclinations of the person one is talking to. Well-behaved persons have no dearth of topics to speak on even with strangers.
A person who has mastered the art of conversing will know that he has not only to speak but must also speak in a manner which is appealing, dignified and effective. a person can say the things he has to say and yet produce no tangible result. For all practical purposes, it would have been better for this person not to have spoken at all! it is, therefore, a golden rule of conversation that words and expressions be brought out in a pleasant, dispassionate manner. A favor asked for by a good-matured person may be easily granted, while the same request coming in an uncouth manner from a disagreeable character is almost certain to be turned down. Good words and soft words have the power to create wonders and, of course, the adage, 'civility costs nothing', is known to all of us.
Pleasantness in speech does not stop at words alone. A person who is soft-spoken and well-behaved is invariably a person who has a kind disposition and an honest and truthful nature. Words and actions in this case go hand-in-hand and the total good effect is lost if either is absent. If we wish to develop pleasantness both in words and in actions, our first step would be to develop 'consideration' for others. If we have humility, consideration, respect, appreciation, and patience for others, it will not be difficult for us to view the others connection with becoming understanding. If we wish to be agreeable, there is nothing to stop us. if we are claim in the face of criticism or any adverse or trying situation, we shall win the day by the power of our pleasant manners.
Command over language
In the final analysis, of course, a person cannot become a good conversationalist if he has no language in which to project his views. He has to be expressive in his own way, whatever language he chooses. This command over language has to find its way through the spoken word. A person may be an author, an educationist or a planner, and still he may have no command over the language and may be unable to express himself clearly by the spoken word. This is not so strange because persons who are engaged in deep thought all the time or a major part of the time lose the habit of taking.
A person must have command of expression. This command will not come to him unless he has practice in conversation with people. Another good way to master this is to read aloud from the daily newspapers or a book till the reader feels that words come to him freely and that he has no difficulty with pronunciation or with his breathing. If some words prove to be difficult, he should go over them again and again till he can enunciate them without trouble.
Conversation in private or closed groups is different from public speaking, and use of eloquence, though relevant and necessary on the platform, has no place in private conversation. To succeed in conversation, one should aim at ready and practical speech and not go in for a roundabout and flamboyant style. Short sentences and easily understandable expressions should be used in a conversation, as these are more appreciated in talking than the long, ambiguous but theoretically through compositions.
Every kind of speech is a function of the mind as well, and unless the mind is in full command of the situation that the conversationalist finds himself in, words will not come easily to the speaker. in the art of conversation, therefore, we shall have to consider confidence as a pre-condition to effective speech. How can this self-confidence be generated in the person concerned to enable him to speak without reservation, shyness or indecision?
In our present-day world, confidence springs mainly from economic security. If a person is worried about personal matters-especially finance- his confidence may be uncertain or shaky. But this is only one of the conditions. It might be that in spite of wealth and prosperity, a person has a complex which prevents him from talking in a fluent, natural and easy manner. At the same time, it is also true that though a person may not have any worldly possessions and is down-and-out, he might still retain his power of speech and self-confidence.
If we take the case of a salesman, lawyer or teacher, we shall find that these persons continue in their vacations largely unhampered by worldly cares and anxieties. These are trained men whose power of speech will not fail them even in the midst of great adversities or sudden crises. They have been able to put aside their own concern while talking to others and so their conversation may still sparkle with wit and humor, though their personal lives are under the greatest of pressure.
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