I’m a pretty timid guy, especially when I’m around a lot of people, so I picked The Art of Public Speaking out as a self-help lessonbook of sorts. Dale Carnegie is most known as the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People–a book I have been recommended, and is on my to-read list. A quick YouTube search on Carnegie introduced me to Public Speaking as well. I had a car trip coming up so I decided to audiobook it again.
The book’s foreward wisely warns us that reading Public Speaking will not turn you into an effective speaker. I like the way Esenwein puts it.
So now at the very first let it be clear as light that methods are secondary matters; that the full mind, the warm heart, the dominant will are primary–and not only primary but paramount; for unless it be a full being that uses the methods it will be like dressing a wooden image in the clothes of a man.
You gotta feel it, you gotta live it, if you wanna speak it.
I find the writing crisp and polished, particularly so for being in the business-literature genre. Some of this, however, could be due to its age. Written in 1915 and filled with ultra classic references (Patrick Henry, Gettysburg address, Emerson), Public Speaking feels almost like a classic itself, sitting at the intersection of philosophy, humanities, and business. It’s easy to tell that the authors are profoundly drawn to all of the big things in life. Morality, authenticity, excellence, and passion ooze through the lessons, and in a way that is free of pomp.
As far as the methodology goes, each chapter is devoted to a specific cornerstone of public speaking. Avoid monotony and treat speaking as a musical performance; the book tells us. Speak with force, don’t apologize, and above all, practice. At the end of each lesson, we also get a set of philosophical and provocative exercises. Rabbit-holes like “Invent five epithets, and apply them as you choose” and “What influences, within and without the man himself, work against fluency?” challenge us to really slice through what we’re supposed to be speaking about. In fact, skimming through the exercises is probably just as valuable as reading through the main prose of the book.
And with that being said, Public Speaking feels more like a reference book to keep coming back to. It’s got a Wittgenstein’s ladder aura surrounding it, but I’ll probably need to skim through it again and again as I get older.
A side note: the Librivox recording of Public Speaking on Youtube is a jumbled mess, with multiple, inconsistent readers and seemingly incomplete passages. Although some of the reading is excellently done, it is probably worth a re-do. Calling all volunteers!