The spectators at a game of basketball game can be transfixed by it or sometimes they couldn’t care about the outcome.
Similar situations may define speaker-audience relationships. Upon one occasion the speaker is deeply enthusiastic about making points and discussing them with his listeners. Listeners respond to his ideas. They listen attentively as they do not wish to miss a thing he says. They have fun at his humor, feel sad when he relates a heartbreaking story, or tingle with anticipation as the speaker’s material and attitude directs.
The feeling goes “round and round.” From speaker to audience, returning to the speaker, also, the spirit of empathy becomes stronger because individuals in the audience catch it from one another. George M. Cohan designated this tendency for emotion to spread, “the contagion of emotion.” When an audience has shared interests, in keeping with the speaker’s, and when an auditorium is well-filled with people sitting shoulder to shoulder, empathy is far more likely to happen than when a speaker is failing to effect springs of interest or when there are wide-open spaces between dispersed listeners.
When mutual empathy is being experienced by a speaker and an audience a definite physical effect is clear in both. Listeners may even lean forward with wide eyes and parted lips when the speaker pictures a thrilling event. They’re alert physically and mentally, in a state of readiness to receive every idea.
The speaker is likewise alert, fully alive and so on fire with ideas and feelings. Physically he is just like an professional shortstop all set and eager to pounce upon any ball that comes in his direction. Observe a ball player whose spirit is completely in the game. He is not standing listlessly or dejected like a commuter who has just missed his train. Neither is he stargazing or daydreaming about last night’s date. Alertly he is on his toes desperate to contribute his entire self for triumph.
Such an athlete is not stiff or tense like a totem pole or collapsed like an exhausted tap dancer. He is relaxed but his condition is a relaxation of readiness rather than the relaxation of total unconcern. He has got muscle “tone”, the sort of relaxed alertness a speaker needs. There is tremendous gap between being relaxed and collapsed!
My next post we’ll see what happens when the speaker appears not to care.
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