William E. Gladstone





Since the purpose of this textbook is mainly to set forth the principles of effective speech delivery, but a single chapter will be devoted to the discussion of speech structure. It has seemed advisable to give some very simple directions in regard to choosing a subject and developing a theme for purposes of extempore speaking. These directions will give the learner the assurance and confidence at the outset that his discussion of any given topic will not be merely a rambling, hit-and-miss talk, but rather a logical and well-ordered development of the theme upon which he has chosen to speak.

The first problem that presents itself is that of the choice of a subject. Sometimes the speaker's subject is assigned to him, so that this matter needs no consideration, but very often it is not, and he must rely upon his own judgment in making the choice. If his judgment in this respect is poor, it often means the complete failure of his speech. A very great deal depends, as he will soon discover, upon a well-chosen subject. It is desirable that some standards of judgment be formed in regard to what is and what is not the proper selection of a subject.

Subject must be appropriate. The first consideration in the choice of a subject is that of the occasion upon which the speech is to be delivered. Most occasions

. have a sufficiently well-defined end and purpose to suggest naturally to the speaker an appropriate theme. The aim of a Memorial Day or Christmas service is so clearly defined that there would be no difficulty in choosing an appropriate subject for discussion. But upon some occasions this is not the case, and it requires both tact and good judgment on the part of the speaker to determine upon a subject that will be entirely appropriate. The occasion in which most of the readers of this chapter will be most directly concerned — a program of speeches in a class in extempore speaking — is a good example of this. Here the occasion does not in any very definite way define the subjects to be discussed, and as a result the student is often much at a loss to think of anything at all to talk about. How, then, shall he decide upon a subject appropriate for an extempore talk to the public-speaking class ?

Subject must be vital. An appropriate subject for a talk of this kind will naturally be, if the student stops to think about it seriously, one that he is sure his classmates will be interested in. Topics of interest in the school and about the campus will probably suggest themselves first of all. These furnish an almost inexhaustible supply of good subjects for him to select from. But in making his choice he will do well to consult his own interest as well as the interests of the class. If he is greatly interested in athletics and very little in forensics, he would not be likely to give as effective a speech upon the intercollegiate debate as upon the big game of the season.


So it is altogether essential that he choose a subject that is vital both to himself and to his classmates.

Topics of interest to a public-speaking class, however, are by no means confined to campus topics. Recently a student in one of my classes, who came from South Africa, gave a talk upon "The Horrors of War” and illustrated it by incidents of the Boer War which he had personally witnessed. It made one of the most profound impressions of any speech I have ever heard in the classroom. Another student from the South spoke of lynch law in the Southern states, describing a lynching that he had seen as a boy in his home town. No subject could have been discussed with greater earnestness and fervor.

The best subjects, then, for the student to speak upon are those about which he is particularly well informed and of which he has, if possible, some first-hand information. This has the twofold advantage of enabling him to speak with much greater earnestness of purpose than he would likely do otherwise, and also of giving much greater weight to his opinions. His hearers feel that he is speaking out of the fullness of his own experience, which lends to his opinions no small degree of authority. This principle is equally true in the choice of a subject for any occasion. We tend always to have respect for the opinions of one who speaks with recognized authority.

This principle is not uncommonly violated in the choice of a subject for a school or college oration. The student, perhaps, has nothing in particular that he wants to speak upon, so he chooses offhand some economic or social topic and proceeds to write an oration upon it, although he has no particular interest in the subject

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