There are some who would argue that the power of the press and the new venues available to the media today have minimized the importance of speech in modern life. After all, who needs public speaking skills when all they have to do is put their thoughts on a billboard or a newspaper headline and display it for the whole world to see? The widespread accessibility of television, radio and, perhaps most significantly, the Internet, coupled with the proper presentation, has made it so that the most awkward of public speakers can inspire and make their voice heard.
These individuals would be wrong. The spoken word, properly presented and supported with strength and conviction, still holds sway in every aspect of life as strongly as it did when the nations weren’t connected by the World Wide Web-perhaps even more so, because international relations are now as commonplace as sitting down in the morning to a bowl of cereal. Imagine a treaty or a trade agreement in the League of Nations being conducted by men and women without any ability in public speaking. It would be a nightmare! No one would be able to sway the conviction of anyone else to their point of view. The arguments would go on for hours with nothing being accomplished.
Imagine state legislatures consisting of representatives who cannot speak, lawyers without the ability to present a convincing argument, teachers who cannot explain a lesson concisely, business negotiations conducted between two people who cannot make their point. Any time that two or more people are together, the importance of speech in modern life is made abundantly clear. Take that speech away, and what you’re left with is a jumble of ideas without any substance.
These interactions cannot be done with a piece of paper or a cleverly designed website. These mediums, while unarguably useful for presenting ideas on a wide scale, don’t allow for the interchange of ideas that is so vital for progress. Yes, the Internet has chat capability. Yes, the telephone and the fax machine are marvelous inventions. There is still nothing like a conversation held face to face, looking into the eye of your ally or adversary as you state your case. It is far more difficult to deny a well formatted argument spoken in a clear, passionate voice than a screen or a page decorated with the latest graphics capability. Speech is what gives these ideas the impetus that moves them from the mind out into society.
Taking the concept of the importance of speech and public speaking skills one step further, imagine a doctor, a lawyer or a businessman without the ability to give dictation. Their letters and charts would be a jumble of half-finished thoughts and poorly formulated ideas. The ability to speak clearly to a single individual or, in many cases, into a tape recorder is an acquired one, and often more difficult that standing up in front of a large but still largely anonymous crowd. The self-consciousness that stands between the speaker and success still exists, perhaps more acutely because there is nothing to draw the focus of the speaker away from the words he is speaking and onto the passion and the motivation behind them.
Even military leaders, men chosen more often than not for their skill on the battlefield rather than their skill with their colleagues, are not exempt from the need for clear, concise public speaking skills. The excerpt below is from a letter sent from the office of the Adjutant-General at the beginning of the Civil War.
“A great number of men have failed at camp because of inability to articulate clearly. A man who cannot impart his idea to his command in clear distinct language, and with sufficient volume of voice to be heard reasonably far, is not qualified to give command upon which human life will depend. Many men disqualified by this handicap might have become officers under their country’s flag had they been properly trained in school and college. It is to be hoped therefore that more emphasis will be placed upon the basic principles of elocution in the training of our youth. Even without prescribed training in elocution a great improvement could be wrought by the instructors in our schools and colleges, regardless of the subjects, by insisting that all answers be given in a loud, clear, well rounded voice which, of course, necessitates the opening of the mouth and free movement of the lips. It is remarkable how many excellent men suffer from this handicap, and how almost impossible it is to correct this after the formative years of life.”
Every man, woman and child, whether they be teacher, mother, General, doctor, lawyer, waiter or negotiator, needs proper public speaking skills and an understanding of the importance of speech in modern life. It isn’t enough simply to believe in an idea, or to be able to write it down. For an idea to grow and thrive it must first have behind it a voice to make it understood and believed.