Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Importance of Exposition

The importance of exposition in public speech is precisely the importance of setting forth a matter so plainly that it cannot be misunderstood.

"To master the process of exposition is to become a clear thinker. 'I know, when you do not ask me,' replied a gentleman upon being requested to define a highly complex idea. Now some large concepts defy explicit definition; but no mind should take refuge behind such exceptions, for where definition fails, other forms succeed. Sometimes we feel confident that we have perfect mastery of an idea, but when the time comes to express it, the clearness becomes a haze. Exposition, then, is the test of clear understanding. To speak effectively you must be able to see your subject clearly and comprehensively, and to make your audience see it as you do."

There are pitfalls on both sides of this path. To explain too little will leave your audience in doubt as to what you mean. It is useless to argue a question if it is not perfectly clear just what is meant by the question. Have you never come to a blind lane in conversation by finding that you were talking of one aspect of a matter while your friend was thinking of another? If two do not agree in their definitions of a Musician, it is useless to dispute over a certain man's right to claim the title.

On the other side of the path lies the abyss of tediously explaining too much. That offends because it impresses the hearers that you either do not respect their intelligence or are trying to blow a breeze into a tornado. Carefully estimate the probable knowledge of your audience, both in general and of the particular point you are explaining. In trying to simplify, it is fatal to "sillify." To explain more than is needed for the purposes of your argument or appeal is to waste energy all around. In your efforts to be explicit do not press exposition to the extent of dulness—the confines are not far distant and you may arrive before you know it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Nature of Exposition

In the word "expose"—to lay bare, to uncover, to show the true inwardness of—we see the foundation-idea of "Exposition." It is the clear and precise setting forth of what the subject really is—it is explanation.

Exposition does not draw a picture, for that would be description. To tell in exact terms what the automobile is, to name its characteristic parts and explain their workings, would be exposition; so would an explanation of the nature of "fear." But to create a mental image of a particular automobile, with its glistening body, graceful lines, and great speed, would be description; and so would a picturing of fear acting on the emotions of a child at night. Exposition and description often intermingle and overlap, but fundamentally they are distinct. Their differences will be touched upon again in the chapter on "Description."

Exposition furthermore does not include an account of how events happened—that is narration. When Peary lectured on his polar discoveries he explained the instruments used for determining latitude and longitude—that was exposition. In picturing his equipment he used description. In telling of his adventures day by day he employed narration. In supporting some of his contentions he used argument. Yet he mingled all these forms throughout the lecture.

Neither does exposition deal with reasons and inferences—that is the field of argument. A series of connected statements intended to convince a prospective buyer that one automobile is better than another, or proofs that the appeal to fear is a wrong method of discipline, would not be exposition. The plain facts as set forth in expository speaking or writing are nearly always the basis of argument, yet the processes are not one. True, the statement of a single significant fact without the addition of one other word may be convincing, but a moment's thought will show that the inference, which completes a chain of reasoning, is made in the mind of the hearer and presupposes other facts held in consideration.

In like manner, it is obvious that the field of persuasion is not open to exposition, for exposition is entirely an intellectual process, with no emotional element.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Using a Library for Researching Your Public Speech

Unsuspected treasures lie in the smallest library. Even when the owner has read every last page of his books it is only in rare instances that he has full indexes to all of them, either in his mind or on paper, so as to make available the vast number of varied subjects touched upon or treated in volumes whose titles would never suggest such topics.

For this reason it is a good thing to take an odd hour now and then to browse. Take down one volume after another and look over its table of contents and its index. (It is a reproach to any author of a serious book not to have provided a full index, with cross references.) Then glance over the pages, making notes, mental or physical, of material that looks interesting and usable. Most libraries contain volumes that the owner is "going to read some day." A familiarity with even the contents of such books on your own shelves will enable you to refer to them when you want help. Writings read long ago should be treated in the same way—in every chapter some surprise lurks to delight you.

In looking up a subject do not be discouraged if you do not find it indexed or outlined in the table of contents—you are pretty sure to discover some material under a related title.


Suppose you set to work somewhat in this way to gather references on "Thinking:" First you look over your book titles, and there is Schaeffer's "Thinking and Learning to Think." Near it is Kramer's "Talks to Students on the Art of Study"—that seems likely to provide some material, and it does. Naturally you think next of your book on psychology, and there is help there. If you have a volume on the human intellect you will have already turned to it. Suddenly you remember your encyclopedia and your dictionary of quotations—and now material fairly rains upon you; the problem is what not to use. In the encyclopedia you turn to every reference that includes or touches or even suggests "thinking;" and in the dictionary of quotations you do the same. The latter volume you find peculiarly helpful because it suggests several volumes to you that are on your own shelves—you never would have thought to look in them for references on this subject. Even fiction will supply help, but especially books of essays and biography. Be aware of your own resources.

To make a general index to your library does away with the necessity for indexing individual volumes that are not already indexed.

To begin with, keep a note-book by you; or small cards and paper cuttings in your pocket and on your desk will serve as well. The same note-book that records the impressions of your own experiences and thoughts will be enriched by the ideas of others.

To be sure, this note-book habit means labor, but remember that more speeches have been spoiled by half-hearted preparation than by lack of talent. Laziness is an own-brother to Over-confidence, and both are your inveterate enemies, though they pretend to be soothing friends.

Conserve your material by indexing every good idea on cards, thus:

Socialism
Progress of S., Env. 16
S. a fallacy, 96/210
General article on S., Howells', Dec. 1913
"Socialism and the Franchise," Forbes
"Socialism in Ancient Life," Original Ms.,
Env. 102

On the card illustrated above, clippings are indexed by giving the number of the envelope in which they are filed. The envelopes may be of any size desired and kept in any convenient receptacle. On the foregoing example, "Progress of S., Envelope 16," will represent a clipping, filed in Envelope 16, which is, of course, numbered arbitrarily.

The fractions refer to books in your library—the numerator being the book-number, the denominator referring to the page. Thus, "S. a fallacy, 96/210," refers to page 210 of volume 96 in your library. By some arbitrary sign—say red ink—you may even index a reference in a public library book.

If you preserve your magazines, important articles may be indexed by month and year. An entire volume on a subject may be indicated like the imaginary book by "Forbes." If you clip the articles, it is better to index them according to the envelope system.

Your own writings and notes may be filed in envelopes with the clippings or in a separate series.

Another good indexing system combines the library index with the "scrap," or clipping, system by making the outside of the envelope serve the same purpose as the card for the indexing of books, magazines, clippings and manuscripts, the latter two classes of material being enclosed in the envelopes that index them, and all filed alphabetically.

When your cards accumulate so as to make ready reference difficult under a single alphabet, you may subdivide each letter by subordinate guide cards marked by the vowels, A, E, I, O, U. Thus, "Antiquities" would be filed under i in A, because A begins the word, and the second letter, n, comes after the vowel i in the alphabet, but before o. In the same manner, "Beecher" would be filed under e in B; and "Hydrogen" would come under u in H.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Using Original Sources When Speaking

The surest way to give life to speech-material is to gather your facts at first hand. Your words come with the weight of authority when you can say, "I have examined the employment rolls of every mill in this district and find that thirty-two per cent of the children employed are under the legal age." No citation of authorities can equal that. You must adopt the methods of the reporter and find out the facts underlying your argument or appeal.

To do so may prove laborious, but it should not be irksome, for the great world of fact teems with interest, and over and above all is the sense of power that will come to you from original investigation. To see and feel the facts you are discussing will react upon you much more powerfully than if you were to secure the facts at second hand.


Live an active life among people who are doing worth-while things, keep eyes and ears and mind and heart open to absorb truth, and then tell of the things you know, as if you know them. The world will listen, for the world loves nothing so much as real life.