Quotes from Chapter 33 of Pushing to the Front
By: Orison Swett Marden
(Published in 1911)
“Self-expression in some manner is the only means of developing mental power.”
“One’s judgment, education, manhood, character, all the things that go to make a man what he is, are being unrolled like a panorama in his efforts to express himself.”
“Anyone who lays any claim to culture should train himself to think on his feet, so that he can at a moment’s notice rise and express himself intelligently.”
“In thinking on one’s feet before an audience, one must think quickly, vigorously, effectively. This requires practice and experience early in life.”
“Every time you rise to your feet will increase your confidence, and after a while you will form the habit of speaking until it will be as easy as anything else.”
“If you have an invitation to speak, no matter how much you may shrink from it, or how timid or shy you may be, resolve that you will not let this opportunity for self-enlargement slip by you.”
“But no public speaker can make a great impression until he gets rid of himself, until he can absolutely annihilate his self-consciousness, forget himself in his speech.”
“It is not the speech, but the man behind the speech, that wins a way to the front.”
“It would be difficult to estimate the great part which practical drill in public speaking my play in one’s life.”
“A great conversationalist is one who has ideas, who reads, thinks, listens and who has therefore something to say.”
“But if you are an artist in conversation, everyone who comes in contact with you will see your life-picture, which you have been painting, ever since you began to talk.”
“Nothing else will indicate your fineness or coarseness of culture, your breeding or lack of it, so quickly as your conversation. It will tell your whole life’s story.”
“Many a man owes his advancement very largely to his ability to converse well.””Every book you read, every person with whom you converse, who uses good English, can help you.”
“We know other people who talk very little, but whose words are so full of mea and stimulating brain force that we feel ourselves multiplies many times by the power they have injected into us.”
“Everywhere we see people placed at a tremendous disadvantage because they have never learned the art of putting their ideas into interesting, telling language.”
“To converse well one must listen well also. This means one must hold oneself in a receptive attitude.”
“One cause for our conversational decline is lack of sympathy. We are too selfish, too busily engaged in our own welfare, and wrapped up in our own little world, too intent upon our own self-promotion to be interested in others.”
“No matter how must you may know about a subject, if it does not happen to interest those to whom you are talking, your efforts will be largely lost.”
“No amount of natural ability or education or good clothes, no amount of money, will make you appear well if you cannot express yourself in good language.”
Pushing to the Front
By: Orison Swett Marden
(Published in 1911)
Self-Improvement Through Public Speaking
It does not matter whether you want to be a public speaker or not, everybody should have such complete control of himself, should be so self-centered and self-posed that he can get up in any audience, no matter how large or formidable, and express his thoughts clearly and distinctly.
Self-expression in some manner is the only means of developing mental power. It may be in music; it may be on canvas: it may be through oratory; it may come through selling goods or writing a book; but it must come through self-expression.
Self-expression in any legitimate form tends to call out what is in a man, his resourcefulness, inventiveness; but no other form of self-expression develops a man so thoroughly and so effectively, and so quickly unfolds all of his powers, as expression before an audience.
It is doubtful whether anyone can reach the highest standard of culture without studying the art of expression, especially public vocal expression. In all ages oratory has been regarded as the highest expression of human achievement. Young people, no matter what they intend to be, whether blacksmith or farmer, merchant or physician, should make it a study.
Nothing else will call out what is in a man so quickly and so effectively as the constant effort to do his best in speaking before an audience. When one undertakes to think on his feet and speak extemporaneously before the public, the power and the skill of the entire man are put to a severe test.
The writer has the advantage of being able to wait for his moods. He can write when he feels like it; and he knows that he can burn his manuscript again and again if it does not suit him. There are not a thousand eyes upon him. He does not have a great audience criticizing every sentence, weighing every thought. He does not have to step upon the scales of every listener’s judgment to be weighed, as does the orator. A man may write as listlessly as he pleases, use much or little of his brain or energy, just as he chooses or feels like doing. No one is watching him. His pride and vanity are not touched, and what he writes may never be seen by anyone. Then, there is always a chance for revision. In conversation, we do not feel that so much depends upon our words; only a few persons hear them, and perhaps no one will ever think of them again. In music, whether vocal or instrumental, what one gives out is only partially one’s own; the rest is the composer’s.
Yet anyone who lays any claim to culture, should train himself to think on his feet, so that he can at a moment’s notice rise and express himself intelligently. The occasions for little speaking are increasing enormously. A great many questions which used to be settled in the office are now discussed and settled at dinners. All sorts of business deals are now carried through at dinners. There was never before any such demand for dinner oratory as today.
We know men who have, by the dint of hard work and persistent grit, lifted themselves into positions of prominence, and yet they are not able to stand on their feet in public, even to make a few remarks, or scarcely to put a motion without trembling like an aspen leaf. They had plenty of opportunities when they were young, at school, in debating clubs to get rid of their self-consciousness and to acquire ease and facility in public speaking, but they always shrank from every opportunity, because they were timid, or felt that somebody else could handle the debate or questions better.
There are plenty of business men to-day who would give a great deal of money if they could only go back and improve the early opportunities for learning to think and speak on their feet which they threw away. Now they have money, they have position, but they are nobodies when called upon to speak in public. All they can do is to look foolish, blush, stammer out an apology and sit down.
Some time ago I was at a public meeting when a man who stands very high in the community, who is king in his specialty, was called upon to give his opinion upon the matter under consideration, and he got up and trembled and stammered and could scarcely say his soul was his own. He could not even make a decent appearance. He had power and a great deal of experience, but there he stood, as helpless as a child, and he felt cheap, mortified, embarrassed, and probably would have given anything if he had early in life trained himself to get himself in hand so that he could think on his feet and say with power and effectiveness that which he knew.
At the very meeting where this strong man who had the respect and confidence of everybody who knew him, and who made such a miserable failure of his attempt to give his opinion upon an important public matter on which he was well posted, being so confused and self-conscious and “stage struck” that he could say scarcely anything, a shallow-brained business man, in the same city, who hadn’t a hundredth part of the other man’s practical power in affairs, got up and made a brilliant speech, and strangers no doubt thought that he was much the stronger man. He had simply cultivated the ability to say his best thing on his feet, and the other man had not, and was placed at a tremendous disadvantage.
A very brilliant young man in New York who has climbed to a responsible position in a very short time, tells me that he has been surprised on several occasions when he has been called upon to speak at banquets, or on other public occasions, at the new discoveries he has made of himself of power which he never before dreamed he possessed, and he now regrets more than anything else that he has allowed so many opportunities for calling himself out to go by in the past.
The effort to express one’s ideas in lucid, clean-cut, concise, telling English tends to make one’s everyday language choicer and more direct, and improves one’s diction generally. In this and other ways speech-making develops mental power and character. This explains the rapidity with which a young man develops in school or college when he begins to take part in public debates or in debating societies.
Every man, says Lord Chesterfield, may choose good words instead of bad ones and speak properly instead of improperly; he may have grace in his motions and gestures, and may be a very agreeable instead of disagreeable speaker if he will take care and pains.
It is a matter of painstaking and preparation. There is everything in learning what you wish to know. Your vocal culture, manner, and mental furnishing, are to be made a matter for thought and careful training. Nothing will tire an audience more quickly than monotony, everything expressed on the same dead level. There must be variety; the human mind tires very quickly without it.
This is especially true of a monotonous tone. It is a great art to be able to raise and lower the voice with sweet flowing cadences which please the ear.
Gladstone said, “Ninety-nine men in every hundred never rise above mediocrity because the training of the voice is entirely neglected and considered of no importance.”
It was indeed said of a certain Duke of Devonshire that he was the only English statesman who ever took a nap during the progress of his own speech. He was a perfect genius for dry uninteresting oratory, moving forward with a monotonous droning, and pausing now and then as if refreshing himself by slumber.
In thinking on one’s feet before an audience, one must think quickly, vigorously, effectively. At the same time he must speak effectively through a properly modulated voice, with proper facial and bodily expression and gesture. This requires practise in early life.
In youth the would-be orator must cultivate robust health, since force, enthusiasm, conviction, will-power are greatly affected by physical condition. One, too, must cultivate bodily posture, and have good habits at easy command. What would have been the result of Webster’s reply to Hayne, the greatest oratorical effort ever made on this continent, if he had sat down in the Senate and put his feet on his desk? Think of a great singer like Nordica attempting to electrify an audience while lounging on a sofa or sitting in a slouchy position.
An early training for effective speaking will make one careful to secure a good vocabulary by good reading and a dictionary. One must know words.
There is no class of people put to such a severe test of showing what is in them as public speakers; no other men who run such a risk of exposing their weak spots, or making fools of themselves in the estimation of others, as do orators. Public speakingthinking on one’s feetis a powerful educator except to the thick-skinned man, the man who has no sensitiveness, or who does not care for what others think of him. Nothing else so thoroughly discloses a man’s weaknesses or shows up his limitations of thought, his poverty of speech, his narrow vocabulary. Nothing else is such a touchstone of the character and the extent of one’s reading, the carefulness or carelessness of his observation.
Close, compact statement must be had. Learn to stop when you get through. Do not keep stringing out conversation or argument after you have made your point. You only weaken your case and prejudice people against you for your lack of tact, good judgment, or sense of proportion. Do not neutralize all the good impression you have made by talking on and on long after you have made your point.
The attempt to become a good public speaker is a great awakener of all the mental faculties. The sense of power that comes from holding attention, stirring the emotions or convincing the reason of an audience, gives self-confidence, assurance, self-reliance, arouses ambition, and tends to make one more effective in every particular. One’s manhood, character, learning, judgment of his opinionsall things that go to make him what he isare being unrolled like a panorama. Every mental faculty is quickened, every power of thought and expression spurred. Thoughts rush for utterance, words press for choice. The speaker summons all his reserves of education, of experience, of natural or acquired ability, and masses all his forces in the endeavor to capture the approval and applause of the audience.
Such an effort takes hold of the entire nature, beads the brow, fires the eye, flushes the cheek, and sends the blood surging through the veins. Dormant impulses are stirred, half-forgotten memories revived, the imagination quickened to see figures and similes that would never come to calm thought.
This forced awakening of the whole personality has effects reaching much further than the oratorical occasion. The effort to marshal all one’s reserves in a logical and orderly manner, to bring to the front all the power one possesses, leaves these reserves permanently better in hand, more readily in reach.
The Debating Club is the nursery of orators. No matter how far you have to go to attend it, or how much trouble it is, or how difficult it is to get the time, the drill you will get by it is the turning point. Lincoln, Wilson, Webster, Choate, Clay, and Patrick Henry got their training in the old-fashioned Debating Society.
Do not think that because you do not know anything about parliamentary law that you should not accept the presidency of your club or debating society. This is just the place to learn, and when you have accepted the position you can post yourself on the rules, and the chances are that you will never know the rules until you are thrust into the chair where you will be obliged to give rulings. Join just as many young people’s organizationsespecially self-improvement organizationsas you can, and force yourself to speak every time you get a chance. If the chance does not come to you, make it. Jump to your feet and say something upon every question that is up for discussion. Do not be afraid to rise to put a motion or to second it or give your opinion upon it. Do not wait until you are better prepared. You never will be.
Every time you rise to your feet will increase your confidence, and after awhile you will form the habit of speaking until it will be as easy as anything else, and there is no one thing which will develop young people so rapidly and effectively as the debating clubs and discussions of all sorts.
A vast number of our public men have owed their advance more to the old-fashioned debating societies than anything else. Here they learned confidence, self-reliance; they discovered themselves. It was here they learned not to be afraid of themselves, to express their opinions with force and independence. Nothing will call a young man out more than the struggle in a debate to hold his own.
It is strong, vigorous exercise for the mind as wrestling is for the body.
Do not remain way back on the back seat. Go up front. Do not be afraid to show yourself. This shrinking into a corner and getting out of sight and avoiding publicity is fatal to self-confidence.
It is so easy and seductive, especially for boys and girls in school or college, to shrink from the public debates or speaking, on the ground that they are not quite well enough educated at present. They want to wait until they can use a little better grammar, until they have read more history and more literature, until they have gained a little more culture and ease of manner.
The way to acquire grace, ease, facility, the way to get poise and balance so that you will not feel disturbed in public gatherings, is to get the experience. Do the thing so many times that it will become second nature to you. If you have an invitation to speak, no matter how much you may shrink from it, or how timid or shy you may be, resolve that you will not let this opportunity for self-enlargement slip by you.
We know of a young man who has a great deal of natural ability for public speaking, and yet he is so timid that he always shrinks from accepting invitations to speak at banquets or in public because he is so afraid that he has not had experience enough. He lacks confidence in himself. He is so proud, and so afraid that he will make some slip which will mortify him, that he has waited and waited and waited until now he is discouraged and thinks that he will never be able to do anything in public speaking at all. He would give anything in the world if he had only accepted all of the invitations he has had, because then he would have profited by experience. It would have been a thousand times better for him to have made a mistake, or even to have broken down entirely a few times, than to have missed the scores of opportunities which would undoubtedly have made a strong public speaker of him.
What is technically called “stage fright” is very common. A college boy recited an address “to the conscript fathers.” His professor asked,”Is that the way Caesar would have spoken it?” “Yes,” he replied, “if Caesar had been scared half to death, and as nervous as a cat.”
An almost fatal timidity seizes on an inexperienced person, when he knows that all eyes are watching him, that everybody in his audience is trying to measure and weigh him, studying him, scrutinizing him to see how much there is in him; what he stands for, and making up their minds whether he measures more or less than they expected.
Some are constitutionally sensitive, and so afraid of being gazed at that they don’t dare to open their mouths, even when a question in which they are deeply interested and on which they have strong views is being discussed. At debating clubs, meetings of literary societies, or gatherings of any kind, they sit dumb, longing, yet fearing to speak. The sound of their own voices, if they should get on their feet to make a motion or to speak in a public gathering, would paralyze them. The mere thought of asserting themselves, of putting forward their views or opinions on any subject as being worthy of attention, or as valuable as those of their companions, makes them blush and shrink more into themselves.
This timidity is often, however, not so much the fear of one’s audience, as the fear lest one can make no suitable expression of his thought.
The hardest thing for the public speaker to overcome is self-consciousness. Those terrible eyes which pierce him through and through, which are measuring him, criticizing him, are very difficult to get out of one’s consciousness.
But no orator can make a great impression until he gets rid of himself, until he can absolutely annihilate his self-consciousness, forget himself in his speech. While he is wondering what kind of an impression he is making, what people think of him, his power is crippled, and his speech to that extent will be mechanical, wooden.
Even a partial failure on the platform has good results, for it often arouses a determination to conquer the next time, which never leaves one. Demosthenes’ heroic efforts, and Disraeli’s “The time will come when you will hear me,” are historic examples.
It is not the speech, but the man behind the speech, that wins a way to the front.
One man carries weight because he is himself the embodiment of power, he is himself convinced of what he says. There is nothing of the negative, the doubtful, the uncertain in his nature. He not only knows a thing, but he knows that he knows it. His opinion carries with it the entire weight of his being. The whole man gives consent to his judgment. He himself is in his conviction, in his act.
One of the most entrancing speakers I have ever listened toa man to hear whom people would go long distances and stand for hours to get admission to the hall where he spokenever was able to get the confidence of his audience because he lacked character. People liked to be swayed by his eloquence.
There was a great charm in the cadences of his perfect sentences. But somehow they could not believe what he said.
The orator must be sincere. The public is very quick to see through shams. If the audience sees mud at the bottom of your eye, that you are not honest yourself, that you are acting, they will not take any stock in you.
It is not enough to say a pleasing thing, an interesting thing, the orator must be able to convince; and to convince others he must have strong convictions.
Great speeches have become the beacon lights of history. Those who are prepared acquire a world-wide influence when the fit occasion comes.
Very few people ever rise to their greatest possibilities or ever know their entire power unless confronted by some great occasion. We are as much amazed as others are when, in some great emergency, we out-do ourselves. Somehow the power that stands behind us in the silence, in the depths of our natures, comes to our relief, intensifies our faculties a thousandfold and enables us to do things which before we thought impossible.
It would be difficult to estimate the great part which practical drill in oratory may play in one’s life.
Great occasions, when nations have been in peril, have developed and brought out some of the greatest orators of the world. Cicero, Mirabeau, Patrick Henry, Webster, and John Bright might all be called to witness to this fact.
The occasion had much to do with the greatest speech delivered in the United States SenateWebster’s reply to Hayne. Webster had no time for immediate preparation, but the occasion brought all the reserves in this giant, and he towered so far above his opponent that Hayne looked like a pygmy in comparison.
The pen has discovered many a genius, but the process is slower and less effective than the great occasion that discovers the orator. Every crisis calls out ability, previously undeveloped, and perhaps unexpected.
No orator living was ever great enough to give out the same power and force and magnetism to an empty hall, to empty seats, that he could give to an audience capable of being fired by his theme.
In the presence of the audience lies a fascination, an indefinable magnetism that stimulates all the mental faculties, and acts as a tonic and vitalizer. An orator can say before an audience what he could not possibly say before he went on the platform, just as we can often say to a friend in animated conversation things which we could not possibly say when alone. As when two chemicals are united, a new substance is formed from the combination, which did not exist in either alone, he feels surging through his brain the combined force of his audience, which he calls inspiration, a mighty power which did not exist in his own personality.
Actors tell us that there is an indescribable inspiration which comes from the orchestra, the footlights, the audience, which it is impossible to feel at a cold mechanical rehearsal. There is something in a great sea of expectant faces which awakens the ambition and arouses the reserve of power which can never be felt except before an audience. The power was there just the same before, but it was not aroused.
In the presence of the orator, the audience is absolutely in his power to do as he will. They laugh or cry as he pleases, or rise and fall at his bidding, until he releases them from the magic spell. What is oratory but to stir the blood of all hearers, to so arouse their emotions that they can not control themselves a moment longer without taking the action to which they are impelled?
“His words are laws” may be well said of the statesmen whose orations sway the world. What art is greater than that of changing the minds of men?
Wendell Phillips so played upon the emotions, so changed the convictions of Southerners who hated him, but who were curious to listen to his oratory, that, for the time being he almost persuaded them that they were in the wrong. I have seen him when it seemed to me that he was almost godlike in his power. With the ease of a master he swayed his audience. Some who hated him in the slavery days were there, and they could not resist cheering him. He warped their own judgment and for the time took away their prejudice.
When James Russell Lowell was a student, said Wetmore Story, he and Story went to Faneuil Hall to hear Webster. They meant to hoot him for his remaining in Tyler’s cabinet. It would be easy, they reasoned, to get the three thousand people to join them. When he begun, Lowell turned pale, and Story livid. His great eyes, they thought, were fixed on them. His opening words changed their scorn to admiration, and their contempt to approbation.
“He gave us a glimpse into the Holy of Holies,” said another student, in relating his experience in listening to a great preacher.
Is not oratory a fine art? The well-spring of eloquence, when up-gushing as the very water of life, quenches the thirst of myriads of men, like the smitten rock of the wilderness reviving the life of desert wanderers.
NOTE FROM JEFFREY GITOMER: This is one small chapter from the self-improvement classic Pushing to the Front by Orison Swett Marden. Author of more than 40 books on personal development, Marden is the father of American Self Help. This book is now copyright free and in the public domain because of our ridiculous and antiquated copyright laws.
You can buy a copy on Kindle for 99 cents. You can also find original hardbound copies on ebay for between 20 and 200 dollars. Somehow holding the book is more electric.
Marden has 40 other books, but Pushing to the Front, published in 1911 is his most popular because it contains thoughts from many of his other works.