Why Speak with Enthusiasm?
IN 1917, during the first world war, the Premier of France, René Raphaël Viviani, visited America, giving a speech at Columbia University in New York city. Even though he spoke in French, a listener who did not understand the language said that he was enthralled by the speech. “I was stirred and thrilled by the marvelous qualities of its delivery,” he explained.
On the other hand, you have probably listened to talks that you did not find inspiring at all, even though you understood every word of the speaker. An American attorney said: “I have listened to many prominent men of this country deliver speeches with deadly monotony. It was embarrassing to the listeners. They could not stay awake.”
Why may a speech be interesting, even stirring to a person, when the person does not even understand the words? Yet, why are some talks that are given in a language you clearly understand so boring they almost put you to sleep?
What Makes a Speech Interesting
The answer lies largely in the way in which the talk is delivered. Once an older woman impressed this fact indelibly on a young minister. He asked her for her observations on a speech that he had just delivered. She acknowledged that his material was fine, but said to him: “If you are not excited about what you have to say, how do you expect us to be?”
The woman really summed up what makes a speech interesting. It is the excitement or enthusiasm of the speaker about his material. If he really puts his heart into the talk, then his live, enthusiastic delivery will capture the audience. They will sit up and listen. But the speaker who lacks enthusiasm will find it much harder to hold his audience, regardless of the excellent material he may present.
Surely, then, you will want to speak with enthusiasm. But what if one’s speech is lacking in this quality? What is usually the reason? How can one develop enthusiasm?
A Natural Quality
Happily, enthusiasm is a natural quality that is possessed by most persons. It is especially seen in children. When you pass a school yard sometime, stop and listen to the lively cries, laughter and conversation of the youths. There is no dullness or monotony in their speech!
Or perhaps you have listened to the enthusiastic appeal of a young child. “Please, mommy!” the child may plead. “Let me go with the other girls. We won’t stay long. I promise to clean up my room when I get back! Won’t you please let me go?” Not only the voice, but the eyes and face, too, mirror the appeal for the mother’s permission. And if mother is hesitant in granting it, a tear may spontaneously well up in the child’s eye, adding emphasis and strength to the appeal.
Adults normally do not lose altogether this natural enthusiasm. Have you listened to a man who enjoys fishing tell about his fishing trip and his huge catch? Or have you heard a group of women discussing an approaching wedding or some other social event? What uninhibited enthusiasm both men and women can show when they are speaking with their close friends! The gestures, facial expressions, changes in volume and pitch, changes in rate of utterance, changes in emphasis, all occur naturally. But when a person gets up before a group of these same friends to give a speech, what happens?
You know. That natural, enthusiastic way of speaking so often vanishes, and the person’s speech is dull and lifeless. Why? What has changed? Really, very little.
There may be a few more of the speaker’s friends gathered together, and they are sitting in rows. The real change, however, is unseen. It is in the speaker’s mind and attitude. He may become self-conscious. He may feel as if he is on the spot, apparently thinking that his friends now are somehow his critics. If so, he loses confidence in his ability to express himself and, as a result, loses his natural enthusiasm.
Developing Enthusiasm in Speech
The first requirement, then, for developing enthusiasm in giving a talk is to get a correct estimation of your audience. Remember, they have not become your foes simply because they sit in rows. They are not critics. Rather, they are friends who have come to listen and to learn from what you have to say.
So to develop enthusiasm, put your heart into what you tell the audience. Believe in the things you say. Or to put it another way: Speak only about things in which you believe. This is essential, since a person cannot speak with genuine enthusiasm about matters in which he does not believe.
A third, closely related requirement is to be interested in the message you have to deliver, to be really filled with the ideas and to have a desire to communicate them. For example, consider the man interested in fishing.
You could hardly expect him to relate to his friends the plans for the coming wedding of his wife’s sister with the enthusiasm he would tell them about his latest fishing trip. He is not fascinated with the details of wedding arrangements. It is not his interest. Ah, but the flick of the fishing pole that sends the bait out over the water, the strike of the fish, the battle to pull it in, all this is of consuming interest to him. So he can talk enthusiastically about this subject.
Another requirement for enthusiastic delivery is to be well prepared, to know your subject. The man telling his fishing experience knows it well. No doubt he has rehearsed the episode many times in his mind. He is confident that no one else knows the story as well as he does. This is vital to his enthusiastic delivery. If a person has only a slight knowledge of his subject, he will find it very difficult to speak with enthusiasm.
Yet another requirement for speaking enthusiastically is to be convinced that your audience should hear what you have to say. If you earnestly believe that their responding to your message is a life-or-death matter, it can help you to speak from the heart with enthusiasm. The desire to get the message across can become so great that you lose all thought of self and think only of the message.
A speaker with such motivation can be compared to a man who discovers an apartment house on fire in the middle of the night. The man has but one thought—to tell the people of their danger. It is a life-or-death matter! So he may run into the building and bang on doors, saying: “Wake up! Your house is on fire! Get out right away!” How does he speak the message? With enthusiasm, of course.
Recreating the Ideas and Emotions
However, a speaker may seem to meet all the above requirements. He may not be afraid of his audience; he may believe in what he has to say; he may have genuine interest in his subject; he may be well prepared; and he may even be convinced that for his audience to respond to his message is a life-or-death matter. Yet he still may fail to speak with enthusiasm. Why? What may be the problem?
The trouble may be that he is not actually thinking of what he is saying. He is not totally involved in it. He needs to relive or recall his feelings on the subject, to get emotionally involved, and not simply to repeat words. For example, the fisherman, when telling his story, puts himself mentally right out there hip deep in the rushing stream. He recalls the excitement of the strike of the fish, and the battle to bring it in. This reliving of the experience, recreating the ideas and emotions while speaking, is what contributes to his enthusiastic delivery.
A speaker on the public platform needs to do the same thing. He may, for instance, be giving a talk on the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, a subject he has perhaps spoken on many times. But at the time of giving the talk, he needs to be totally involved in the idea of what Jesus’ sacrifice really means to himself and his audience. He needs to recall his feelings of gratitude to Jehovah God and Christ Jesus for this marvelous provision. He needs to think of the grand prospect of life it opens up for mankind—eternal happiness in perfect health in a restored earthly paradise! How his heart is moved as he speaks!—John 3:16; Rev. 21:3, 4.
When this occurs, the speaker does not lapse into merely uttering words or even ideas. His emotions also are involved. Not only his whole mind, but his whole heart, too, is wrapped up in the subject. Thus, even though he may have expressed the same thoughts many times before, he speaks with enthusiasm.
Love for the Audience
What will especially help a person to speak in this way is having love for his audience. With this quality, he will not deliver his material matter-of-factly, in a you-can-take-it-or-leave-it manner. He will instead have an attitude similar to that of a parent toward his child.
Perhaps a child has run across a street without looking. The parent knows the danger of doing this. So he speaks earnestly to the child, putting into his voice and way of speaking a note of urgency. If the child fails to pay attention, or treats the matter lightly, the parent makes further efforts. With added conviction and enthusiasm he tries to impress upon the child the danger of crossing streets without looking.
A public speaker should similarly be moved by an earnest desire to convey to his audience information that will benefit them. So he watches their reaction to what he is saying. If they seem unconvinced or for some reason have failed to get a point, then with added enthusiasm and expression he endeavors to convince them or help them to understand.
Importance of Enthusiasm
Enthusiasm is the very life of a talk. Never underestimate its importance. Without enthusiasm a speech is dead and the audience is likely to be unmoved and unconvinced. I. M. Flapan, former director of New York School of Public Speaking, observed:
“Most intelligent people would like to believe that the world can be moved by reason and logic. The sad truth is, the world is moved by feelings and emotions. A speaker who appeals to you with real warmth, sincerity and enthusiasm will almost always carry his audience with him.”
Enthusiasm convinces. James C. Cropsey, a late justice of the New York Supreme Court, said that when a lawyer with whom he disagreed presented his arguments with earnestness and enthusiasm, he would listen with a great deal of attention. It would cause him to think that perhaps the lawyer might be right after all.
Consider also the example of the Samaritan woman to whom Jesus Christ spoke at a well-side one noon, as related in the Bible. Using his miraculous powers of perception, Jesus told the woman details of her personal life. She thus believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah or Christ, and so went into the city and reported these matters. The Bible account says: “Many of the Samaritans out of that city put faith in [Jesus] on account of the word of the woman who said in witness: ‘He told me all the things I did.’”—John 4:6-39.
Think of that! Many people put faith in Jesus simply on the word of the woman—an immoral woman at that! (John 4:18) Imagine with what excitement and enthusiasm she must have related the things Jesus said. Indeed, enthusiasm convinces, it gives credibility to what one says.
So speak with enthusiasm. Fill your mind and heart with your subject. Be convinced that what you have prepared is the truth. Then let an overwhelming desire to communicate these ideas cause you to put your heart into your speech. If you thus speak with enthusiasm, your audience will not only listen but also be convinced and act on what you say.