Being able to develop self-confidence doesn’t usually happen at once.
An able showman, having complete self-confidence and not depending upon a canned speech, has the ability to ad-lib when unusual circumstances occur.
For instance, when a college professor was introduced as a speaker for an audience of business executives he didn’t get any applause. In fact, his audience just sat and looked as though they were angry for having to be present.
Of course the speaker expected some applause, but when he didn’t get any he completely changed the beginning of his speech. Instead of starting immediately with an illustration, as he had planned, he applauded himself as he said, while grinning widely, “Why shouldn’t I applaud me? The good Lord knows if any¬one needs encouragement I do!”
Then, entirely unplanned, he continued with this illustration:
College professors can be dull. I know! — because two of us were on a speaking program recently. One’s bad enough, but think of two!
Well, he spoke first, and I went to sleep.
Then I spoke and he went to sleep.
Now I don’t blame him for going to sleep, of course, but why did that buzzard have to snore?
A fat man in the second row grinned. Other listeners loosened up a bit. And soon they willingly listened to a speaker they thought would not be worth hearing. The speaker had used showmanship to get interest. What would have been the effect if he had showed himself displeased with his audience, if he had reprimanded the listeners for their lack of courtesy or enthusiasm?
A tactful, persuasive speaker recognizes adverse conditions instantly and adjusts harmoniously to them.
Abraham Lincoln, for example, became highly successful in winning the goodwill of unfriendly audiences. Notice his speak¬ing approach to some people in Southern Illinois who had seriously threatened to “nail his hide on a barn door” if he tried speaking to them against slavery:
Fellow citizens of Southern Illinois, fellow citizens of the State of Kentucky, fellow citizens of Missouri — I am told there are some of you here present who would like to make trouble for me. I don’t understand, why they should. I am a plain, common man, like the rest of you; and why should I not have as good a right to speak my sentiments as the rest of you? Why, good friends, I am one of you. I am not an interloper here. I was born in Kentucky, and raised in Illinois, just like the most of you, and worked my way along by hard scratching. I know the people of Kentucky, and I know the people of Southern Illinois, and I think I know the Missourians. I am one of them, and therefore ought to know them; and they ought to know me better, and if they did know me better, they would know that I am not disposed to make , them trouble. Then, why should they, or any of them, want _ to make trouble for me? Don’t do any such foolish thing, fellow citizens. Let us be friends, and treat each other like friends. I am one of the humblest and most peaceful men in the world —would wrong no man, would interfere with no man’s rights. And all I ask is that, having something to say, you give me a decent hearing. And, being Illinoisans, Kentuckians, and Missourians — brave and gallant people — I feel sure that you will do that. And now let us reason together, like the honest fellows we are.
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