Vol. XXVIII No. 12 — December 1950

Masonic Speakers and Speeches

Every lodge hears the Masonic speech; every lodge wants the speaker if he is “good” and every lodge condemns him, if, as sometimes happens, he knows neither how to speak nor what to speak about.

Lodges do not expect all speakers to be trained elocutionists, noted pulpit orators, or famous lecturers. Any brother who has a fair command of the English language, who is not afraid to open his mouth and let words come out, and who will spend a little time in preparation, can make an acceptable Masonic speech.

The “big name” speaker, while his reputation attracts a large audience, is sometimes a complete flop in lodge. If his knowledge of Masonry is small, he takes refuge in some such subject as “Masonry and Americanism” or “Masonry in Everyday Life” or “Masonry and Communism.” When he finishes, the audience may note to its sorrow that while he knew a lot, it was not about Masonry!

Americanism is an attractive subject. Everyday life may be made charming. Communism can and should be held up to Masonic view as anathema. But a half hour talk on Americanism which begins or ends with the statement that all the signers of the Constitution, all Washingtons Generals, all members of the Supreme Court were and are Masons, and consists only of approbation of the American way, is not what brethren want and keeps the hall empty for the next master brave enough to advertise a “Masonic” speech!

Many occasions require a speech other than Masonic; lodges which are interested in “Public Schools Week” or some other community program may well engage a speaker who does not talk on Masonry. Nothing herein set forth implies that only a Masonic speech can or should be offered a lodge. But the Masonic speaker, on a Masonic subject, to a Masonic audience is a “natural” and it is of these that these words are especially written.

There are a thousand subjects in the Ancient Craft about which interesting speeches can be made.

This Short Talk Bulletin, published without break from January 1923, to the present date, provides a library of three hundred thirty-six ready-made speeches. Each issue is on a single subject, each subject covered in about 2500 words, each topic the result of boiled-down research.

In the Book of the Law of any grand lodge are dozens of suggestions for subject which may successfully he utilized in a lodge address; lodge trials, Masonic laws, how a new lodge is formed, the Masonic home, cornerstone layings, dedications, constituting a new lodge, etc. Many words are in every ritual which are either obsolete or with meanings obscure to most. A talk on Cowan, cabletow, due guard, Abif, abbreviations, accepted, Ahiman Rezon, demit, freeborn, eavesdropper, libertine, Loveteau, etc. will hold the brethren breathless if the speaker has something interesting to say of the meanings of the words and how they came into the Fraternity.

Having materials, however, does not build a house! A builder having the Masonic material must mold it into the speech.

Here is a successful recipe, formula, rule, diagram — keep it simple.

The most moving address is always simple.

The story of creation is told in less than four thousand words.

The greatest prayer the world knows can be offered in two minutes.

The Declaration of Independence can be read in half an hour; if the charges against the King are omitted, in a few minutes.

Decide how long the speech is to be; divide the address into from five to ten topics; have enough on each topic for two or three minutes. Write the topics on a card; follow the card in the speech and the address is accomplished.

Brethren are hungry to learn. A few may want ancient history; others may enjoy arguments about principles of law; some appreciate meanings to be read into Masonic symbols, but all eagerly absorb information about the commonplaces of the Fraternity; why we do as we do.

Why are there three Lesser Lights, and not five or seven? Why do we practice the rite of circumambulation? Why is a tiler called so and not “doorkeeper”? Why does a master wear a hat? Why do brethren not walk between altar and East while a lodge is at labor? Why is it not legal to hold a lodge without a charter present (or in the Temple)? Why should a brother salute the master? Why may a brother not move, to “lay on the table” or “to adjourn” in a lodge when he can in his union, society, chamber of commerce, etc.? Where is the lodge of the Holy Sts. John? Whence this talk of a Masonic goat? Why must a brother not tell how he has or will ballot?

A twenty minute talk on these and hundreds of other simple, elemental matters will have brethren sitting on the edges of their seats clamoring for more!

The chairman of the entertainment committee, or the master who arranges for a speaker, should caution any orator not known to him in regard to religion, politics, and length of speech. Politics, meaning that which enters into the science of government, is not a forbidden subject — a lodge may hear of the Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence and Masonry’s part in making both. But partisan politics — the advantages or disadvantages of the party in power, the superiority of Joe Green over Jim Brown as a candidate from the Fifth Ward, of course are interdicted in a Masonic lodge.

A lodge may hear of Biblical history, investigations, discoveries, translations, interpretations as long as the talk is non-sectarian. When an address becomes a matter of Christianity versus Atheism, or Judaism versus Islam, or brings doctrine, dogma or sect in the lodge it is taboo.

The speaker who follows the orator’s golden rule of “stand up, speak up, shut up” — will not need to be cautioned as to time. But, alas, some otherwise delightful brethren so appreciate the sound of their voices that their terminal facilities have receded into the far distance. The speaker who believes in the non-intelligence of the brethren in his audience and first tells them what he is going to tell them, then tells them, and ends up telling them what he has told them will not make much of a hit, and will, in all probability, over-stay his allotted time.

“All the souls are saved in the first twenty minutes,” spoken of a sermon in church, is not hard to paraphrase for a Masonic lodge; “all the yawns come after the first twenty minutes!” “Twenty minutes” is a flexible term — one man may be intensely interesting for an hour, a second become a bore before his mouth is fairly open. What is here emphasized is that if to complete a program there is a time limit on a speech, the speaker should be advised of the fact, the reason for it, and asked if he can conclude within that period of time.

No real platform artist overstays his time; he knows what he is going to say and how long is required to say it. But the majority of those who make speeches to a lodge are not trained platform artists — hence the friendly caution as to the time available.

Some speakers have every equipment necessary, but one; men with resounding voices, impressive faces, graceful gestures, dignity and place and position in the world. Most brethren have heard those who sometimes talk half an hour and say nothing that can be recalled five minutes after they conclude. These are they who substitute the package for the contents. And then there are speakers who have what the former have not — an idea, a thought, a point to make. Such may or may not be beautifully provided by nature with all the equipment of a really fine speaker. The man with an idea, the speaker with a thought, the orator with a passion for a truth he wants to share will invariably get the attention of the Masonic audience. But the kindest Masonic audience cannot take words in place of ideas, fancies instead of facts, fairy tales in place of realities, flag waving in place of real patriotism. It is still possible to be sentimental about the flag, give three cheers for Patrick Henry, make a touching reference to the little red school house and drop a tear for all aging mothers, and get some applause.

But such speeches seldom draw an invitation to return.

Masons are hungry for simple, concrete, understandable and interesting talks of Masonry. They cannot be fooled by platitudes.

It is poor kindness to a speaker to give him an overgreat build up. The master of ceremonies who attempts to sell the lodge on the idea that the right worshipful grand sword bearer from the neighboring grand lodge is a modern mixture of Demosthenes, Patrick Henry, William Jennings Bryan, and Robert G. Ingersoll does him a poor service. The M.C. who tells his audience the speaker is the “greatest authority,” “has more on the ball than any living brother,” “is generally considered to be the world’s leading Freemason,” etc. starts his speaker with an unnecessary, unwanted and uncharitable handicap, because he cannot live up to the expectations given. Give the speaker a happy, cordial, admiring and short introduction but put him at least one step below the throne of grace!

At the end of the program, the sin of sins against a good speaker is occasionally committed by masters who have only friendliness, hospitality and good will in their hearts. Having heard a really masterful address, something which wove a spell over the audience, masters occasionally try to prolong the witchery of the moment by asking “Past Master Johnson, I am sure you have a word for the brethren,” “Brother Smith, we would be glad to hear from you,” “Visiting Master Jones of our sister lodge, I am sure you have something to add,” etc. ad infinitum ad nauseaum. For what can the luckless member, past master, or visitor do? He can but say that he enjoyed the speech and “please, Worshipful, have another as good” or “please, Worshipful, I will have a speaker in my lodge two weeks from now and I’ll be delighted to see you and as many brethren as can make it conveniently to come.” Brother after brother stammers his best but unprepared words until the spell is broken, the wizardry disappears, the gossamer vision dissolves.

When the principal speaker finishes, the wise program director does not have any more speeches.

Brethren who want to be of real use to their lodges can offer few services greater than the preparation and delivery of a talk on a Masonic subject. Some, with the best will in the world, because untrained, occasionally commit a few oratorical sins which are easy to avoid.

A speaker who begins a talk with an apology, “I will do the best I can in my humble way,” Handicaps himself. He is ill advised who informs the audience, “I haven’t given this as much study as I should, but I’ll speak as well as I can.” Any audience has the right to believe that the speaker is prepared; there is no need to be “humble” and to admit that the subject has not been given attention is an insult to the brethren who are prepared to give attention.

It is poor psychology to end an address with “I thank you.” There should be no reason why a speaker should think an audience for listening to him. A serious talk is ill begun with half-a-dozen stories which may or may not be funny. While a laugh at the beginning may “get the audience in a good humor” (see almost any manual for speakers!), an audience presumably is gathered to hear something informative, instructive, inspirational, interesting and not merely to be amused by the repetition of jokes.

If gestures are natural to a speaker he should make them. But if a speaker does not naturally “talk with his hands,” as so many do successfully, it is wise not to gesture at all. Aimless waving of arms, pointing of fingers, pounding the lectern detract from interesting words.

In the name of all that is kind and considerate of an audience, if a microphone is used the speaker should keep his mouth behind it! Few handicaps a speaker may give himself are greater than one clear sentence followed by a mere mumble from the loud speakers.

The speaker who talks to just one man in the audience loses attention. Speak to the whole audience by talking to the brethren in the last row, the furthest away. The voice should be raised until it can be heard everywhere; what is worth saying is worth hearing.

Finally, no speaker should fear his audience. The successful speech will draw hearty applause. The poor effort may draw only polite applause, but it will receive a generous amount.

Brethren make kind, non-critical, generous and responsive audiences. They assemble to be pleased, they want to be pleased, and they are easily pleased. Fear is catching; the speaker who is afraid of his audience makes his audience afraid for him.

Any brother who makes an honest and sincere attempt to interest an audience with even a modicum of mental food, will receive master’s wages in the form of many hearty handshakes, many statements that “I enjoyed your speech, my brother,” and occasionally the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when some visitor begs “Oh, sir, please come to my lodge and speak to us!”

The Masonic Service Association of North America