Speech Criticism, the Development of Standards for Rhetorical Appraisal

By Lester Thonssen; A. Craig Baird | Go to book overview

Chapter 16
THE DELIVERY OF THE SPEECH

Importance of Delivery in Rhetoric

Some years ago, after he had delivered a speech at Columbia University, Heywood Broun wrote in his daily column that he had learned one thing about public speaking, even though it had not been of great use to him. "People respond less to ideas," he remarked, "than to particular vocal tones." He added that he was informed a certain note played on a violin could bring down a bridge. On this observation he reflected: "That may not be true, but it is sure that there can be such a thing as a sound within the throat which will bring down a house."1

In Broun's comments we find the modern facsimile of an ancient conviction. From the beginning of the art of speaking, there has been a full recognition of the need for effective delivery; but coupled with this acknowledgment has been the suspicion, if not open distrust, of the use of vocal manipulation to induce responses from listeners. Aristotle commented very briefly on delivery, and that only because he believed the imperfections of hearers made it essential. He did not regard delivery as an elevated topic of inquiry; and he would have preferred that ideas be received upon their own demonstrable merit, rather than upon the auxiliary support of vocal management. It is reported that Demosthenes, on an occasion when his voice failed him, and the audience hissed, cried out: "Ye are to judge of players, indeed, by their voice, but of orators by the gravity of their sentences."2 Admirable as such a condition might be, it has never existed, and probably never will; so we must equate delivery with the total rhetorical process, assessing its value in the light of the support it gives to an orator's effort to elicit defensible responses from an audience.

Delivery has received varying measures of emphasis in the works on public speaking. In some treatises-- Aristotle Rhetoric, for instance--it is dismissed with a few sentences; in others--especially those dealing with the elocutionary tradition, such as John Walker Elements of Elocution and Thomas Sheridan Lectures on Elocution

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