1. Do not be afraid or ashamed to use the best helps you can get. Divest yourself of the idea that all you need is to wait till a toast is proposed and your name called, and then to open your mouth and let the eloquence flow forth. The greatest genius in the world might succeed in that way, but would not be likely to venture it. Use a book and study your subject well.
2. Generally, it is not well to memorize word for word either what you have written or obtained from a book, unless it is a pun or a story where the effect depends upon verbal accuracy. But be sure to memorize toasts, sentiments, and titles absolutely. To know the substance of your speech well, with one or two strong points in it, is better than to have a flowery oration weighing down your memory.
3. If you are a novice (and these directions are given to no others), do not aim to make a great speech, but to say a few things modestly and quietly. A short and unassuming speech by a beginner is sure of applause. Eloquence, if you have it in you, will come later through practice and familiarity with your subject.
4. If you can’t remember or find a good story, in-vent one ! Perhaps you have scruples as to the latter. But a story is not a lie; if so; what would become of the noble tribe of novel-writers ! Mark Twain gives a very humorous account of the way 111 which he killed his conscience. Probably many speakers who retail good things might make confession in the same direction.
But why is it not as reputable to invent one’s own story as to tell the story some one else has invented? Does the second telling improve its morality ? Rather give heed to the quality of the story. This, and not its origin, is the really important matter to consider.
5. Success in after-dinner speaking is difficult or easy to attain according to the way you go about it. If you think you must startle, rouse, and electrify your hearers, or, worse still, must instruct them in something you think important, but about which they care nothing, your efforts are likely to be attended by a hard and bitter experience. But if, when a prospective speech-occasion looms up, you will reflect upon the sentiment you wish to propose, or will get a friend to do a little planning and suggest the easiest toast or topic, and then attempt to say just a little, you will probably come off with flying colors.
6. When you rise, do not be in a hurry. A little hesitation has a better effect than too much promptness and fluency, and a little stammering or hesitation, it may be added, will have no bad effect. In beginning, your manner can without disadvantage be altogether lost sight of, and if you have some-thing to say the substance of which is good, and has been carefully prearranged, you will be able to give utterance to it in some form; grammatical mistakes or mispronunciation, where there is no affectation, as well as an occasional repetition, will rarely be noticed.
7. Above all, remember it may be assumed that your hearers are your friends, and are ready to receive kindly what you have to say. This will have a wonderfully steadying effect on your nerves. And if your speech consists only of two or three sentences slowly and deliberately uttered, they will at least applaud its brevity, and give you credit for having filled your place on the programme respect-ably.
It has been often said that Americans are greatly ahead of the English in general speech-making, but in pleasant after-dinner talking and addresses they are much inferior. Probably this was once true, but if so, it is true no longer. The reason of any former deficiency was simply want of practice, without which no speech-making can be easy and effective. But the importance of, this kind of oratory is now recognized, and, with proper efforts to cultivate and master it, Americans are taking the same high rank as in other forms of intellectual effort. Lowell and Depew are acknowledged as peers of any ” toast-responder ” or ” after-dinner orator ” the world has ever seen. One of the chief elements of their charm consists in the good stories they relate. Whoever has a natural faculty, be it ever so slight, as a story-teller, will, if he gathers up and appropriates the good things that he meets with, soon realize that he is making rapid progress in this delightful field, and that he gains much more than mere pleasure by his acquisitions.
The best entertainments are not those which merely make a display of wealth and luxury. Quiet, good taste, and social attractions are far better. The English wit, Foote, describes a banquet of the former character. ” As to splendor, as far as it went, I admit it: there was a very fine sideboard of plate; and if a man could have swallowed a silversmith’s shop, there was enough to satisfy him; but as to all the rest, the mutton was white, the veal was red, the fish was kept too long, the venison not kept long enough; to sum up all, everything was cold except the ice, and everything sour except the vinegar.” Excellence in the quality of the viands is not to be disregarded in the choicest company. A celebrated scholar and wit was selecting some of the choicest delicacies on the table, when a rich friend said to him, ” What! do philosophers love dainties ?” ” Why not ?” replied the scholar; ” do you think all the good things of this world were made only for block-heads I”