Vol. XXXVII No. 11 — November 1959

So You’re Going to Make a Speech

Conrad Hahn

First of all, my brother, let me congratulate you sincerely. You are filling one of the greatest needs of Masonic laZodges everywhere. You are undertaking a truly “speculative” labor, which as a Fellowcraft you were earnestly exhorted to perform. You are beginning to fashion a genuine “master’s piece” for the symbolic building that we dedicate to Virtue and Truth. Your wages will be the satisfaction of accomplishment and an appreciation of your brotherly devotion that will never be exhausted or completely spent.

Don’t let anybody “kid” you, however. What you’re going to do is not as easy as “falling off a log.” But don’t let anybody frighten you, either. Any sincere Mason can deliver a praiseworthy speech in a Masonic lodge if he is willing to make some effort and to exercise some of the natural gifts with which every normal person is endowed.

Most of the effort required must be devoted to the preparation: selection of the subject, gathering material, evaluating and re-working it, making a tentative outline, putting the material into a connected and meaningful whole, trying it aloud in a kind of rehearsal, and preparing a final copy, especially if you care “to preserve it for posterity.”

“I don’t know anything to talk about!” “I really wouldn’t know what to say.” These are among the commonest reasons given for a refusal to talk before a Masonic audience. Coming from a Master Mason such an excuse is really feeble. The rich symbolism of Masonic ritual, the wealth of Masonic history, both operative and speculative, the inexhaustible supply of moral illustrations in the Holy Bible, the universal applications of the seven liberal arts and sciences, the legal decisions and administrative practices of various grand lodges, and the limitless significance of the tenets of Freemasonry in everyday life provide subject matter for Masonic talks and addresses that are almost infinite in number.

If you’re having trouble in choosing the subject you’re going to talk about, just run your eye down the table of contents or the index of such outstanding Masonic books as C. C. Hunt’s Masonic Symbolism, H. L. Haywood’s Symbolical Freemasonry, or R. F. Gould’s Concise History of Freemasonry. Or try the “finger of fate” method by opening one of the volumes of Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and, covering your eyes with one hand, let the forefinger of the other fall anywhere on the page to which you’ve blindly opened the book. Or, get a copy of the free catalog of Short Talk Bulletins of The Masonic Service Association, in which you will discover a veritable goldmine of subjects for Masonic speeches. Over four hundred titles are listed therein; in more than thirty-five years The Short Talk Bulletins have become a gigantic “Little Library” for Freemasons.

No Master Mason can honestly say, “I have nothing to talk about.” The only truthful excuse he can give is the statement that he simply doesn’t have the time or the inclination to do a little searching and to discipline his intellect to prepare an acceptable address.

When you have decided on a subject, my brother, it is time to gather materials for the body of your essay. But don’t be in too great a hurry. The relative value of facts, opinions, anecdotes, illustrations, and ideas becomes apparent only as they “sink into your subconscious and there undergo a fusing process, a kind of cerebral osmosis, whereby they develop a distinctly personal flavor and meaning, like a well-blended private tobacco mixture.

These materials should be selected first of all from your own experiences. What a Masonic event has meant to you; your conception of the meaning of a Masonic word or phrase; your interpretation of a Masonic symbol: these are the basic materials with which you’ll probably begin to work. Next, you’ll want to look up facts or figures, and to compare your ideas with those of other Masonic speakers and writers. This process is known as research; it need not be elaborate or extensive. But, remember, historical subjects, or analyses of special applications of one of the arts or sciences, like geometry, require considerable reading to clarify your own understanding and to authenticate the facts you wish to use.

It is always profitable to jot down your momentary ideas or mental pictures. Making notes of facts and opinions as you read will also help to provide a rich batter of “speech stuff” when you finally decide to compose your address. You can never have too many notes and jottings of this nature, unless you are a hoarder who can never throw anything away. A speech has much more flavor if it has been brewed from a mash so rich that it had to be thinned, than if its ingredients are so sparse and thin that the result is a watery tasteless liquid without nourishment.

There may come a point, however, when your collection of notes has become too extensive and complicated for the limited subject that you’ve decided to talk about. It’s time “to pick up.” Your problem is much like that of a six-year-old in his playroom, who must get ready for bed. Blocks, books, marbles, toy soldiers, cowboy suit, trucks and cars are scattered all over the floor. Since each has its definite place, the books on the shelves, the blocks in their cases, the toy soldiers in their boxes, and the marbles in the bag — the toys must be sorted and properly arranged.

Your notes are like the toys; you have to separate them into categories. As you do this, you will probably become aware of the fact that some of the groups of notes are really not necessary for your speech. When the little boy wanted to play “war,” he used the soldiers, the trucks for military transport, and the marbles for cannonballs. The other things, like books and the cowboy suit, he rejected for this temporary amusement.

Furthermore, your notes will resemble the toys in another respect. Some of the soldiers wear grey; some blue. Yet they are all soldiers. Some of the marbles are blue; some red; some yellow; some green; some orange. But they’re all marbles. Just so with your notes and ideas.

Suppose you are preparing a little talk on Masonic gavels. You have quite a few notes about hammers, mallets, setting mauls, and gavels. Yet they’re all gavels, in a sense. In a description of Masonic gavels, they are classified together. You have notes about chipping off rough corners of coarse stones, of tapping stones into position, of driving pegs into joints, of rapping for order in meetings. These go together as “uses” of the implement, even though each note has a different “color.”

What you are actually doing in this process is “outlining” your talk. As you reject the ideas, facts, and illustrations that do not serve your main subject, you are also arranging those that are suitable and necessary into groups that have a similar meaning or purpose. All that remains to complete the outline is to arrange these groups of notes and jottings into a logical, effective order. This is determined not by a general rule or specific technique, but by the emphasis that you as the speaker wish to make, by the suspense you may wish to create, or by the conclusions that you want your audience to reach as the result of listening to your words.

Now, my brother, you are ready to compose your talk or address. If this is your “maiden speech,” write it out. This does a number of things for you. It gives you a beginning and an ending, both of which can now be ornamented or polished. Once you have a first draft, read it aloud. This will give you a feeling for your speech on your tongue, between your teeth, and in your throat and chest cavity. A successful delivery depends greatly on your satisfaction with the way your words, spoken aloud, feel in your speaking apparatus, and on the way they sound in your own ears. Such rehearsals will do much to suggest improvements in the way you phrase your ideas, the rhythm or cadence with which you want your words to “flow,” and the clarity and precision with which you want to pronounce and enunciate your words. If you are a perfectionist, perform some of these rehearsals before a mirror, so that you can study your gestures, facial expressions, and stage presence for the best results later on.

These preparations are essential it you want to produce “a master’s piece” in polishing a symbolic stone for the temple of Masonic Knowledge. But be encouraged, my brother, by one changeless law of learning. Practice makes perfect, and just as you learned to drive an automobile by conditioning certain reflexes to the point where they became automatic, so you can learn to deliver short talks for Masonic audiences by practicing these preparatory steps until they become automatic reflexes. What took you hours to do in giving your first speech can become a simple activity of an hour’s leisure when you have thoroughly practiced the art. And it’s fun! But when you get to thatpoint in a career of public speaking, be careful. Don’t accept too many invitations to talk here, there, and everywhere. It’s no fan to drive a car when you are tired, sleepy, or in heavy traffic. You can be a “dangerous talker” as well as a dangerous driver, when you get too tired or too involved in the heavy traffic of too many commitments.

What did I mean by “ornamenting and polishing the beginning and ending”? Generally speaking, those are the hardest parts to compose in any literary effort. In speeches they are crucially important, but they are easier to conceive once you have the body of your talk well in mind. A beginning should arouse the interest, enlist the sympathies, or challenge the placid prejudices of your audience. Which approach to use, or whether to use more than one, depends on the kind of group you are addressing. Generally speaking, Masonic audiences, especially in the lodge room, give a speaker one initial advantage. They are well disposed to listen to something serious.

Consequently, the well-worn rule of beginning a speech with an amusing story does not necessarily apply to short talks in a Masonic lodge. If you are a good storyteller and if you have an appropriate story that helps to introduce the main idea of your subject matter, use it. Your introduction will be ornamented thereby. But Masonic audiences do not need the tempting candy of a string of inappropriate jokes to win their interest and attention. A risque story is better left in the trash can of your discarded notes and jottings.

Furthermore, don’t plead or apologize for your appearance “on the platform.” Nothing stamps the ineffectual speaker more clearly than a lame or halting start, in which he tries to excuse his ignorance or to apologize for taking up his listeners’ tune. A Masonic audience rightfully expects the speaker to be prepared. “Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking” may be a familiar joke, but expressed in any form such an attitude is really discourteous to the audience. It merits only scorn and inattention.

A similar danger exists for the conclusion. It should be strong, leaving your hearers convinced by a short but positive declaration, or moved by a sincere expression of emotion, or inspired by a penetrating observation of beauty. Don’t mar the ending by a feeble “Thank you,” for that expression also sounds like an apology. The brethren who come to lodge are hungry to learn. If your remarks gave them real spiritual nourishment, your audience will thank you. They are in your debt, rather than vice versa.

As for “tricks of the trade” to make your delivery more effective, any good handbook on public speaking can give you dozens of those. A Masonic audience, however, doesn’t have to be tricked into listening to a talk about Freemasonry, but it deserves the courtesies and consideration implicit in the following rules. Speak up and out so that your voice will carry to the farthest corner of the room. Speak to everybody, by speaking to the farthest row back and letting your eyes occasionally move back and forth along that group. Don’t use too many gestures. If they don’t come naturally, don’t use them at all! There are some people who talk easily and volubly with their hands; but on the speaker’s podium too many gestures seem forced and unnatural. Certainly they tend to distract if they are artificial or awkward.

The most important quality that every Masonic speech should have is sincerity. Be sure you really want to say something. If you really have nothing to say and you don t want to make the effort to develop a subject to share with your brethren, say so honestly. It will strengthen your sincerity when you do finally decide that you want to make a speech.

Every Masonic speaker borrows ideas and illustrations from others. But doesn’t that make him guilty of insincerity, if he doesn’t acknowledge such borrowings specifically? It’s a delicate point of judgment, of course; but if you have digested those ideas, if you have ‘thought them through” so that they have become the warp and woof of your own philosophy and beliefs, if you have made them so much a part of your way of thinking and feeling that you can express them in your own words, with illustrations and interpretations peculiarly your own, the sincerity of your expression of those borrowed ideas will be all the stronger for your individual contribution to them.

“Love thy neighbor” is not an original idea; but if you really believe it, if you have really practiced it in the relationships of daily living, you can give it a sincere expression from convictions all your own.

But if you honestly believe that someone has said something significant more beautifully or more effectively than you can, don’t hesitate to quote it, with proper acknowledgment, of course. Your admiration and appreciation for such a master workman in words will add to the sincerity of your remarks. Don’t overdo it, however. A long string of quotations may lead your critical hearers to the conclusion that you don’t think for yourself, or that you prepare a speech by opening Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and copying what seems appropriate to your subject!

The narration of personal experiences to illustrate a thought or an idea can do more harm, as well as more good, for the shining sincerity of a speech than almost any other device. Unfortunately, when talking about one’s self, the average person unconsciously includes a great many details of experience that are irrelevant to the point he is trying to make. He bores us, because he appears to be self-centered. Even worse, most of us unwittingly reveal some personal traits and shortcomings, when talking about ourselves, which are damaging to the very idea we are trying to get our hearers to accept.

But if you can see yourself as others see you, if you have developed that judicial ability to look at yourself as you do your close friends and acquaintances, with the same cool objectivity and warm appreciation, the same scorn and delight, the same pity and admiration, the same fault-finding and praise, you are probably safe in talking about yourself.

The natural gift that every speaker possesses, but that he often feels deprived of, is the gift of imagination.

Every man has it; but too many of us fail to cultivate it and to use it. It is really the ability to see things vividly and see them “whole.” It is the ability to read a symbol and to recognize clearly the things that are symbolized.

One of the strongest holds that Freemasonry exercises over men’s minds is the symbolism of its ritual and its lectures. It was this that quickened each new member’s imagination; it was this that convinced him that Masonry was not just another club or social organization.

All of us interpret symbols every day. When we pick up the morning paper, we see something more than a piece of paper with printing on it. We see the fire reported in it; we feel the pain of the victims of an accident; we fear the increase in the tax rate as we relate the news to our own budgets.

When we open our correspondence, we do the same thing. We see beyond the cold writing to the actual writer, perhaps a son or daughter at college. We enter into his activities, and by reliving in our imagination some of our own experiences, we make his experiences our own. All this is accomplished by the power of imagination, which sees through the symbols of words and letters into the throbbing activities of life all around us.

Poets are probably the most powerful interpreters of the symbols we call words. Theirs is the gift of seeing something clearly with the inner eye of imagination. Then, by a choice of words to evoke memories and feelings in others, they succeed in communicating that clear vision to the world around them. What a volume of guilty suffering Shakespeare was able to convey to us about Lady Macbeth in that shuddering, haunting line, “All the perfumes of Arabia shall not sweeten this little hand.” Jesus was a master of imaginative insight; His parables are as universal as they are simple. Where His disciples saw a field of wheat, He saw a series of human problems of growth and corruption, and beyond that the whole world waiting for the harvest of righteousness. Where His disciples saw a flock of sheep, He saw the need of a shepherd.

Pythagoras looked deeply into the meanings ofwords to denote numbers, and out of his imagination sprang the concepts of divinity in the oneness of one and of the perfection inherent in the triangle or three. Masons have always held Pythagoras in high esteem, because that ancient brother was an imaginative thinker. So too, in your own area of experience, can you enrich your speech and speech-making by seeing behind the symbols called words that you frequently use and call your own. cient brother was an imaginative thinker. So too, in your Congratulations, my brother. I wish that I could own area of experience, can you enrich your speech and hear the speech you’re preparing.

The Masonic Service Association of North America