Excerpts from

  "Talks on Talking"
 (Lessons in Public Speaking)

Grenville Kleiser

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Good conversation implies naturalness, spontaneity, and sincerity of utterance. It is not advisable, therefore, to lay down arbitrary rules to govern talking, but it is believed that the suggestions offered here will contribute to the general elevation and improvement of daily speech.

Considering the large number of persons who are obliged to talk in social, business, and public life, the subject of correct speech should receive more serious consideration than is usually given to it. It is earnestly hoped that this volume will be of practical value to those who are desirous of developing and improving their conversational powers.


Chapter 1 - The Art of Talking.................
Chapter 2 - Types of Talkers...................
Chapter 3 - Talkers and Talking................
Chapter 4 - Phrases for Talkers................
Chapter 5 - The Speaking Voice.................
Chapter 6 - How to Tell a Story................
Chapter 7 - Talking in Salesmanship............
Chapter 8 - Men and Mannerisms.................
Chapter 9 - How to Speak in Public.............
Chapter 10 - Practical Hints for Speakers......
Chapter 11 - The Dramatic Element in Speaking..
Chapter 12 - Conversation and Public Speaking..
Chapter 13 - A Talk to Preachers...............
Chapter 14 - Care of the Speaker's Throat......
Chapter 15 - Don'ts for Public Speakers........
Chapter 16 - Do's for Public Speakers..........
Chapter 17 - Points for Speakers...............
Chapter 18 - The Bible on Speech...............
Chapter 19 - Thoughts on Talking...............

Chapter 1


The charm of conversation chiefly depends upon the adaptability of the participants. It is a great accomplishment to be able to enter gently and agreeably into the moods of others, and to give way to them with grace and readiness.

The spirit of conversation is oftentimes more important than the ideas expressed. What we are rather than what we say has the most permanent influence upon those around us. Hence it is that where a group of persons are met together in conversation, it is the inner life of each which silently though none the less surely imparts tone and character to the occasion.

It requires vigorous self-discipline so to cultivate the feelings of kindness and sympathy that they are always in readiness for use. These qualities are essential to agreeable and profitable intercourse, though comparatively few people possess them.

Burke considered manners of more importance than laws. Sidney Smith described manners as the shadows of virtues. Dean Swift defined manners as the art of putting at ease the people with whom we converse. Chesterfield said manners should adorn knowledge in order to smooth its way through the world. Emerson spoke of manners as composed of petty sacrifices.

We all recognize that a winning manner is made up of seemingly insignificant courtesies, and of constant little attentions. A person of charming manner is usually free from resentments, inquisitiveness, and moods.

Personality plays a large part in interesting conversation. Precisely the same phraseology expressed by two different persons may make two wholly different impressions, and all because of the difference in the personalities of the speakers.

The daily mental life of a man indelibly impresses itself upon his face, where it can be unmistakably read by others. What a person is, innately and habitually, unconsciously discloses itself in voice, manner, and bearing. The world ultimately appraises a man at his true value.

The best type of talker is slow to express positive opinions, is sparing in criticism, and studiously avoids a tone or word of finality. It has been well said that "A talker who monopolizes the conversation is by common consent insufferable, and a man who regulates his choice of topics by reference to what interests not his hearers but himself has yet to learn the alphabet of the art. Conversation is like lawn-tennis, and requires alacrity in return at least as much as vigor in service. A happy phrase, an unexpected collocation of words, a habitual precision in the choice of terms, are rare and shining ornaments of conversation, but they do not for an instant supply the place of lively and interesting matter, and an excessive care for them is apt to tell unfavorably on the substance of discourse."

When Lord Beaconsfield was talking his way into social fame, someone said of him, "I might as well attempt to gather up the foam of the sea as to convey an idea of the extraordinary language in which he clothed his description. There were at least five words in every sentence that must have been very much astonished at the use they were put to, and yet no others apparently could so well have expressed his idea. He talked like a racehorse approaching the winning-post—every muscle in action, and the utmost energy of expression flung out into every burst."

We are told that Matthew Arnold combined all the characteristics of good conversation—politeness, vivacity, sympathy, interestedness, geniality, a happy choice of words, and a never-failing humor. When he was once asked what was his favorite topic for conversation, he instantly answered, "That in which my companion is most interested."

Courtesy, it will be noted, is the fundamental basis of good conversation. We must show habitual consideration and kindliness towards others if we would attract them to us. Bluntness of manner is no longer excused on the ground that the speaker is sincere and outspoken. We expect and demand that our companion in conversation should observe the recognized courtesies of speech.

There was a time when men and women indulged freely in satire, irony, and repartee. They spoke their thoughts plainly and unequivocally. There were no restraints imposed upon them by society, hence it now appears to us that many things were said which might better have been left unsaid. Self-restraint is nowadays one of the cardinal virtues of good conversation.

The spirit of conversation is greatly changed. We are enjoined to keep the voice low, think before we speak, repress unseasonable allusions, shun whatever may cause a jar or jolt in the minds of others, be seldom prominent in conversation, and avoid all clashing of opinion and collision of feeling.

Macaulay was fond of talking, but made the mistake of always choosing a subject to suit himself and monopolizing the conversation. He lectured rather than talked. His marvelous memory was perhaps his greatest enemy, for though it enabled him to pour forth great masses of facts, people listened to him helplessly rather than admiringly.

Carlyle was a great talker, and talked much in protest of talking. No man broke silence oftener than he to tell the world how great a curse is talking. But he told it eloquently and therein was he justified. There was in him too much vehement sternness, of hard Scotch granite, to make him a pleasant talker in the popular sense. He was the evangelist of golden silence, and though he did not apparently practice it himself, his genius will never diminish.

Gladstone was unable to indulge in small talk. His mind was so constantly occupied with great subjects that he spoke even to one person as if addressing a meeting. It is said that in conversation with Queen Victoria he would invariably choose weighty subjects, and though she tried to make a digression, he would seize the first opportunity to resume his original theme, always reinforced in volume and onrush by the delay.

Lord Morley is attractive though austere in conversation. He never dogmatizes nor obtrudes his own opinions. He is a master of phrase-making. But although he talks well he never talks much.

The story is told that at a recent dinner in London ten leading public men were met together, when one suggested that each gentleman present should write down on paper the name of the man he would specially choose to be his companion on a walking tour. When the ten papers were subsequently read aloud, each bore the name of Lord Morley.

Lord Rosebery is considered one of the most accomplished talkers of the day. Deferential, natural, sympathetic, observant, well-informed, he easily and unconsciously commands the attention of any group of men. His voice is said to recommend what he utters, and a singularly refined accent gives distinction to anything he says. He is a supreme example of two great qualifications for effective talking: having something worth while to say, and knowing how to say it.

Among distinguished Canadians, Sir Thomas White is one of the most interesting speakers. His versatile mind, and broad and varied experience, enable him to converse with almost equal facility upon politics, medicine, finance, law, science, art, literature,  Dates, details, facts, figures, and illustrations are at his ready command. His manner is natural, courteous, and genial, but in argumentation the whole man is so thoroughly aroused to earnestness and intensity as almost to overwhelm an opponent. His greatest quality in speaking is his manifest sincerity, and it is this particularly which has ingratiated him in the hearts of his countrymen.

The Honorable Joseph H. Choate must certainly be reckoned among the best conversationalists of our time. His manner, both in conversation and in public speaking, is singularly gracious and winning. He is unsurpassed as a story-teller. His fine taste, combined with long experience as a public man, makes him an ideal after-dinner speaker.

Some eminent men try to mask their greatness when engaged in conversation. They do not wear their feelings nor their greatness on their sleeves. Some have an utter distaste for anything like personal display. It is said of the late Henry James that a stranger might talk to him for an entire evening without discovering his identity.

There is an interesting account of an evening's conversation between Emerson and Thoreau. When Thoreau returned home he wrote in his Journal: "Talked, or tried to talk, with R.W.E. Lost my time, nay, almost my identity. He, assuming a false opposition where there was no difference of opinion, talked to the wind." Emerson's version of the conversation was this: "It seemed as if Thoreau's first instinct on hearing a proposition was to controvert it. That habit is chilling to the social affections; it mars conversation."

Conversation offers daily opportunity for intellectual exercise of high order. The reading of great books is desirable and indispensable to education, but real culture comes through the additional training one receives in conversation. The contact of mind with mind tends to stimulate and develop thoughts which otherwise would probably remain dormant.

The culture of conversation is to be recommended not only for its own sake, but also as one of the best means of training in the art of public speaking. Since the best form of platform address today is simply conversation enlarged and elevated, it may almost be assumed that to excel in one is to be proficient in the other.

Good conversation requires, among other things, mental alertness, accuracy of statement, adequate vocabulary, facility of expression, and an agreeable voice, and these qualities are most essential for effective public speaking. Everyone, therefore, who aspires to speaking before an audience of hundreds or thousands, will find his best opportunity for preliminary training in everyday speech.

Chapter 2


There is no greater affliction in modern life than the tiresome talker. He talks incessantly. Presumably he talks in his sleep. Talking is his constant exercise and recreation. He thrives on it. He lives for talking's sake. He would languish if he were deprived of it for a single day. His continuous practice in talking enables him easily to outdistance all ordinary competitors. There is nothing which so completely unnerves him as long periods of silence. He has the talking habit in its most virulent form.

The trifling talker is equally objectionable. He talks much, but says little. He skims over the surface of things, and is timid of anything deep or philosophical. He does not tarry at one subject. He talks of the weather, clothes, plays, and sports. He puts little meaning into what he says, because there is little meaning in what he thinks. He cannot look at anything seriously. Nothing is of great significance to him. He is in the class of featherweights.

The tedious talker is one without terminal facilities. He talks right on with no idea of objective or destination. He rises to go, but he does not go. He knows he ought to go, but he simply cannot. He has something more to say. He keeps you standing half an hour. He talks a while longer. He assures you he really must go. You tell him not to hurry. He takes you at your word and sits down again. He talks some more. He rises again. He does not know even now how to conclude. He has no mental compass. He is a rudderless talker.

Probably the most obnoxious type is the tattling talker. He always has something startlingly personal to impart. It is a sacred secret for your ear. He is a wholesale dealer in gossip. He fairly smacks his lips as he relates the latest scandal. He is an expert embellisher. He adroitly supplies missing details. He has nothing of interest in his own life, since he lives wholly in the lives of others. He is a frightful bore, but you cannot offend him. He is adamant.

There is the tautological talker, or the human self-repeater. He goes over the ground again and again lest you have missed something. He is very fond of himself. He tells the same story not twice, but a dozen times. "You may have heard this before," says he, "but it is so good that it will bear repetition." He tries to disguise his poverty of thought in a masquerade of ornate language. If he must repeat his words, he adds a little emphasis, a flourishing gesture, or a spirit of nonchalance.

Again, there is the tenacious talker, who refuses to release you though you concede his arguments. When all others tacitly drop a subject, he eagerly picks it up. He is reluctant to leave it. He would put you in possession of his special knowledge. You may successfully refute him, but he holds firmly to his own ideas. He is positive he is right. He will prove it, too, if you will only listen. He knows that he knows. You cannot convince him to the contrary, no indeed. He will talk you so blind that at last you are unable to see any viewpoint clearly.

A recognized type is the tactless talker. He says the wrong thing in the right way, and the right thing in the wrong way. He is impulsive and unguarded. He reaches hasty conclusions. He confuses his tactlessness with cleverness. He is awkward and blundering. His indifference to the rights and feelings of others is his greatest enemy. He is a stranger to discretion. He speaks first, and thinks afterwards. He may have regrets, but not resolutions. He is often tolerated, but seldom esteemed.

The temperamental talker is one of the greatest of nerve-destroyers. He deals in superlatives. He views everything emotionally. He talks feelingly of trifles, and ecstatically of friends. He gushes. He flatters. To him everything is "wonderful," "prodigious," "superb," "gorgeous," "heavenly," "amazing," "indescribable," "overwhelming." Extravagance and exaggeration permeate his most commonplace observations. He is an incurable enthusiast.

The tantalizing talker is one who likes to contradict you. He divides his attention between what you are saying and what he can summon to oppose you. He dissents from your most ordinary observations. His favorite phrases are, "I don't think so," "There is where you are wrong," "I beg to differ," and "Not only that." Tell him it will be a fine day, and he will declare that the signs indicate foul weather. Say that the day is unpromising, and he will assure you it does not look that way to him. He cavils at trifles. He disputes even when there is no antagonist.

To listen to the tortuous talker is a supreme test of patience. He slowly winds his way in and out of a subject. He traverses by-paths, allowing nothing to escape his unwearied eye. He goes a long way about, but never tires of his circuitous journey. Ploddingly and perseveringly he zigzags from one point to another. He alters his course as often as the crooked way of his subject changes. He twists, turns, and diverges without the slightest inconvenience to himself. He likes nothing better than to trace out details. His talking disease is discursiveness.

The tranquil talker never hurries. He has all the time there is. If you are very busy he will wait. He is uniformly moderate and polite. He is a rare combination of oil, milk, and rose-water. He would not harm a syllable of the English language. His talking has a soporific effect. It acts as a lullaby. His speech is low and gentle. He never speaks an ill-considered word. He chooses his words with measured caution. He is what is known as a smooth talker.

The torpedo talker is of the rapid fire explosive variety. He bursts into a conversation. He scatters labials, dentals, and gutturals in all directions. He is a war-time talker,—boom, burst, bang, roar, crash, thud! He fills the air with vocal bullets and syllabic shrapnel. He is trumpet-tongued, ear-splitting, deafening. He fires promiscuously at all his hearers. He rends the skies asunder. He is nothing if not vociferous, stentorian, lusty. He demolishes every idea in his way. He is a Napoleon of words.

The tangled talker never gets anything quite straight. He inevitably spoils the best story. He always begins at the wrong end. Despite your protests of face and manner he talks on. He talks inopportunely. He becomes inextricably confused. He is weak in statistics. He has no memory for names or places. He lacks not fluency but accuracy. He is a twisted talker.

The triumphant talker lays claim to the star part in any conversation. He likes nothing better than to drive home his point and then look about exultingly. He says gleefully, "I told you so." That he can ever be wrong is inconceivable to him. He knows the facts since he can readily manufacture them himself. He is self-satisfied, for in his own opinion he has never lost an argument. He is a brave and bold talker.

These, then, are some types of talking which we should not emulate. Study the list carefully—the tiresome talker, the trifling talker, the tedious talker, the tattling talker, the tautological talker, the tenacious talker, the tactless talker, the temperamental talker, the tantalizing talker, the tangled talker, the triumphant talker—and guard yourself diligently against the faults which they represent. Talking should always be a pleasure to the speaker and listener, never a bore.

"Talks on Talking"
 (Lessons in Public Speaking)

Grenville Kleiser

Order in Adobe PDF eBook or printed form for $4.95 (+ printing charge)