Thursday, November 11, 2010

“All speaking is public speaking,” or “there is no such thing as public speaking”?

Two popular phrases among speakers and coaches are that “all speaking is public speaking,” or “there is no such thing as public speaking.” Both phrases are intended to reduce anxiety by pointing out that public speaking is not really that different from just having a conversation with a person or two.

One version attributed to Patricia Fripp is:

“Outside of the privacy of your own home, all speaking is ‘public speaking.’ There is no such thing as ‘private speaking.’”

Decades earlier on page 200 of his 1960 book, The Magic Power of Emotional Appeal, Roy Garn said:

“All speaking is ‘public speaking’ - even when you have but one listener!”

The second phrase turned up in a blog post last week by by Gary Genard, and in another by Sarah Gershman in September.

It also was proposed as the title for two different books. The first one out the door in 2007 was There’s No Such Thing As Public Speaking by Jeanette and Roy Henderson, although Matthew Cossolotto also planned to use it (and mentioned it in a press release on November 29, 2005). Then his book was retitled All The World’s A Podium. There are YouTube videos of both Jeanette Henderson and Matthew Cossolotto.

I have read the Hendersons book and found it contains lots of useful information. On this blog I mentioned their advice to turn the entire body when you switch sides between teleprompter screens. (If you just turn your head, your audience may decide you are watching an invisible tennis game). However, their unusual terminology of Presenter and Reactor rather than Speaker and Listener was irritating. All 100 times I saw the word Reactor I mentally preceded it with Nukular.

Back when I was looking for a title for this blog I first considered The Joy of Speaking (in analogy with that classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking), but found that Mr. Cossolotto already was using that name for a course. So, my title became Joyful Public Speaking.

Are both these phrases a modern insight from the age of the International Space Station, or just an “old whine in a new bottle?” I did some digging with Google and both magazine and newspaper databases. It turns out that the basic idea, of public speaking just being an enlarged conversation, goes back to very early in the 20th century.

Page 131 of Edwin Du Bois Shurter’s 1903 book, Public Speaking: a treatise on delivery states that:

“In the opening chapter it was shown that the basis of the best speaking lies in the best conversation; that the act of speaking is only the enlarged conversation that comes from speaking to a collection of individuals; that the most effective public speaking comes from talking to the audience. Now, if the student can from the outset be persuaded to take this attitude toward any audience he may address, he has gained more than he could from a year’s study and practice of the technique of delivery.”

James Albert Winans said it more clearly in 1915, in a story which opens Chapter 1 of his book Public Speaking, Principles and Practice:

“Imagine all memory of speech-making to be blotted out, so that there is no person in the world who remembers that he has ever made a speech, or heard a speech. Imagine too, all speeches and all references to speeches in literature, to be blotted out; so there is left no clue to this art. Is this the end of speech-making. Here comes a man who has seen a great race, or has been in a great battle, or is on fire with enthusiasm for a cause. He begins to talk with a friend he meets on the street; others gather, twenty, fifty, a hundred. Interest grows intense; he lifts his voice that all may hear. But the crowd wishes to hear and see the speaker better. ‘Get up on this cart!’ they cry; and he goes on with his story or plea.

A private conversation has become a public speech; but under the circumstances imagined it is thought of only as a conversation, as an enlarged conversation. It does not seem abnormal, but quite the natural thing. When does the talker or converser become a speech-maker? When ten persons gather? Fifty? Or is it when he gets on the cart? Is there any real change in the nature or the spirit of the act? Is it not essentially the same throughout, a conversation adapted as the talker proceeds to the growing number of his hearers? There may be a change of course, if he becomes self-conscious; but assuming that interest in story or argument remains the dominant emotion, there is no essential change in his speaking. It is probable that with the increasing importance of his position and the increasing tension of feeling that comes with numbers, he gradually modifies his tone and his diction, and permits himself to launch into a bolder strain and a wider range of ideas and feelings than in ordinary conversation; but the change is in degree and not in kind. He is conversing with an audience.”

Mr. Winans also told a version of that story to open his briefer 1911 book, Notes on Public Speaking: for the classes on public speaking, Cornell University.

In 1919 Harry Collins Spillman made it explicit on page 123 of his book on Personality: Studies in Personal Development:

“...Every person in public life should acquire some art in public speaking, not in the sense of oratory or declamation, but he must be effective in speaking because all speaking is public. The salesman addressing a single customer is a public speaker. The secretary interpreting the orders of her superior to a half dozen department heads is getting valuable training in oral expression. One’s first lesson in public speaking should be like the proverbial first lesson in swimming.

The most indispensable requisite of effective speaking lies in the anxiety of the speaker to speak. He must have something to say that he very much desires to say, otherwise the address is sure to lack force and appear as a belabored effort against time. A good speech is never made altogether by the speaker. The audience catches the first force of the speaker and in reacting unconsciously inspires and reinforces the speaker.”

An article on How to Talk by Percy H. Whiting (managing director of the Dale Carnegie Institute) in the September 1946 issue of The Rotarian revealed:

“Well, to get to the point quickly: Public speaking is merely bigger and better and brighter conversation.”

In a talk on Effective Speech delivered on December 28, 1950 and published the March, 1951 issue of Vital Speeches of the Day, Professor Horace G. Rahskopf (head of the speech department at the University of Washington) complained that:

“Somewhere in the literature of our field I have seen the statement ‘all speaking is public speaking.’ Now the obvious truth intended is that all speaking is social in nature. Nevertheless, many a student and many a citizen who looks at the material in our field will be puzzled and confused by the statement, especially if he has taken the trouble to observe that speech occurs not only as public speaking but also in such forms as conversation, discussion, reading aloud, and acting.”

What about the second phrase? A Google Books search turns up snippet views for magazine references (possibly to ads for courses) in both Time and Newsweek from 1968 that seem to attribute it to Dale Carnegie. Both say that:

“As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as "public" speaking. There is only private speaking— from one mouth to one ear at a time.”

Mr. Carnegie died back in 1955. I did not find that phrase associated with his name in earlier newspaper articles. Also,I could not find the ads in the bound volumes for either magazine at local libraries. However, those ads might not have been in the regional editions that included Boise, Idaho.

The common modern lament that too often:

“The difference between ordinary conversation and public speaking is, that in the former men are natural and earnest, whereas in the latter they are too frequently boring and dull.”

also turns out to be very old. It was quoted by Grenville Kleiser back in 1916 on page 407 of his Complete Book of Public Speaking, as having come from page 81 of an anonymous book, The Public Speaker, circa 1860!

1 comment:

Public Speaking Expert said...

Some peopme believe public speaking is an art, but it's not. It's a skill that can easily be learned.