May 24:  Toastmasters Day

On this day in 1905, the very first Toastmasters meeting was held in Bloomington, Illinois.  The idea for the club was hatched by Ralph C. Smedley, an education director with the YMCA, who wanted to teach speaking skills to the young men in his community.  

Toastmasters 2011.pngToday, Toastmasters clubs span the globe in 142 countries, providing men and women opportunities to practice their public speaking.  The major focus of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit agency, is to develop leaders through the teaching of effective communication skills.  At weekly Toastmasters meetings, members present a range of different talks, gaining valuable speaking experiences.

As stated at the Toastmaster International website, the collaborative nature of the clubs are an essential ingredient in their success:

By regularly giving speeches, gaining feedback, leading teams and guiding others to achieve their goals in a supportive atmosphere, leaders emerge from the Toastmasters program. Every Toastmasters journey begins with a single speech. During their journey, they learn to tell their stories. They listen and answer. They plan and lead. They give feedback—and accept it. Through our community of learners, they find their path to leadership.

Don’t let speaking drive you nuts.  Use PECAN

One way to improve your public speaking skills is to identify the specific elements that lead to a successful presentation.  PECAN is a mnemonic device that will help you remember five key elements of a successful presentation:

Pace, Eye Contact, Control, Articulation, and Non-verbal Communication

PACE: Think Goldilocks

The timing and pace of any speech is an essential element. Remember, your audience hears your speech only once, so practice your speech with an ear to your rhythm and your pace.  As you practice, try not to go too fast or too slow; instead, aim to make it just right. When people get nervous, they tend to speed up, so practice with a stopwatch until you get your time down within a 10-second window of your predicted time.  Always mark your speech to remind you to vary your speed, pacing, and pauses. Use pauses at appropriate times and avoid any pauses that don’t compliment your message. Watch out for verbal ticks (um, like, ya know); again, practice will help you eliminate these so that they don’t distract from your message.

EYE CONTACT:  Engage Your Audience and Get Feedback

Make eye contact with your audience and smile a little at the very beginning of any speech.  Eye contact is essential to make human contact with your audience. Look at your audience so that each person in the room feels involved.  You cannot connect with the audience without eye contact, and if you don’t connect with the audience, you can’t get your message across to them.  Eye contact will also give you instant feedback about your performance.

Don’t try to memorize your speech, but practice it so that you know it so well that you can say it, not read it.  Make marks on your speech to remind yourself to look up; at the very minimum, you should be able to do this at the end of every sentence. As you gain experience and confidence with eye contact, practice moving your head to look at each person in the room.  Strive to make as much eye contact as possible and try to spend more time looking at the audience than looking at your speech.

CONTROL:  Keep Calm and Carry On  

Public speaking is not easy and having fear and anxiety before and during your speech is natural.  The key is to harness the nervous energy and use it to motivate your preparation and practice. The goal is to appear calm and confident so that the audience can focus on the content of your speech and to avoid being distracted by anything that is not relevant to your message.  

Use the tree as your metaphor for control.  Trees are natural, and they have a solid base below – a trunk.  A tree also has branches that move naturally in the wind. Like the tree, keep your feet planted, stand up straight, and balance your weight evenly.  Use your upper body – your arms, hands, and head – to compliment your message, moving them naturally like the limbs of the tree in the wind. Everyone has idiosyncrasies of speech and behavior, the problem is that these get exaggerated when we get nervous.  This is why you must practice. Be aware of shuffling, fidgeting, wiggling or nervous gestures that might distract from your speech. As you gain experience you will become more aware of your weaknesses and will become more confident with strategies to eliminate them.

Another key element of control is staying focused and ignoring distracts.  Don’t allow anyone in the audience to distract you. Maintain the tone that is appropriate for your speech.  If you lose focus or burst out in inappropriate laughter, it is your fault. You are responsible for being in control of your speech from beginning to end.

ARTICULATION:  Your Audience Hears Your Speech Just Once

To articulate means to express yourself as fluently, as coherently, and as eloquently as possible.  Part of articulation is the volume of your voice. You do not need to yell, but you do need to speak loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear you.  If you naturally speak at a low volume, practice raising it a bit. Also, make sure to enunciate your words so that they are as clear as possible. If you speak too softly, mumble, or blur words together, your audience will not be able to understand your speech.  

Another key element of articulation is the variety of your voice.  Mark your speech to ensure that you include vocal variety. Consider where you will pause and where you will emphasise certain words and phrases.  You must build-in vocal variety to avoid just reading your speech in a monotone manner. You must try to make your written words sound as natural as possible.  To do this vary your sentence lengths and types, and practice your speech out loud. The other thing you must do is to practice your speech enough so that it doesn’t sound scripted.

The final key element of articulation is the tone of your voice. Putting together a clearly organized speech with cogent reasoning is vital, but the best speeches combine reason (logos) with emotion and passion (pathos).  With passion, you will be able to animate your message and transfer it to your audience. If you care and believe what you are saying, there is a more likely chance that your audience will accept what you are saying. Consider the tones of your speech, and as you practice make those tones come alive with your voice.  If you just read your speech with no passion, emotion, or feeling, it will sound as if you don’t care about what you’re saying. If you don’t care, your audience won’t either. And remember, one of the major purposes of any speech is to move your audience to think and to feel.

NONVERBAL CUES: Match Your Movements to Your Message

The advantage of spoken language over written language is that you can include nonverbal gestures to enhance the understanding of your message.  The key is to use body language, gestures, and facial expressions that enhance your message instead of distracting from it. As you practice, think about what you will do with your hands.  Placing them on the podium is better than fidgeting. Again, everything you do should serve your speech and your audience, so any gestures that distract should be eliminated. This is why you must practice so that you include gestures that work and eliminate gestures that don’t.  

Wear appropriate clothing for your presentation.  Just like gestures and body language, what you wear should complement your speech.   

Today’s Challenge:  PECAN Pie

What are the most important elements of effective public speaking?  Watch a Ted Talk or other public presentation, and use the elements of PECAN to evaluate the effectiveness of the presentations.  Use the metaphor of a pecan pie, and identify each of the five elements as a slice of the presentation. Draw a circle and make specific notes on the speaker’s Pace, Eye Contact, Control, Articulation, and Non-Verbal Cues (Common Core Speaking and Listening)

Quotation of the Day:  Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue . . . -William Shakespeare

May 9:  Turn Off the TV Day

Today is the anniversary of a memorable speech by Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to the National Association of Broadcasters. The year was 1961, and Minow did not have many good things to say about commercial television. His speech, where he called television “a vast wasteland,” sparked a national debate about the quality, or lack thereof, of television programming.

Newton Minow 2006.jpgSince Minow’s speech, television has been called the idiot box and the boob tube. Television viewers have become couch potatoes (1979), and the number of channels has grown to more than 500, but “nothing is on.”

Here’s an excerpt from Minow’s indictment:

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you — and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it. (1)

While Minow’s phrase “a vast wasteland” caught on, his speech certainly did not discourage the growth of television sets in American homes. In an age of reality television, satellite television, and 24-hour sports and cable news stations, television is more popular than ever.

One question that has been asked by educators since the advent of commercial television is: What is the relationship between television viewing and reading? One particularly interesting answer to this question was given by Norman Mailer in the January 23, 2005 edition of Parade Magazine. In the article, Mailer says that the one thing that he would do to change America for the better would be to get rid of television commercials. Mailer argues that the constant interruptions of commercials disrupt our children’s ability to read effectively by denying them something that is necessary for reading: concentration.

Here is an excerpt from Mailer’s Parade essay:

When children become interested in an activity, their concentration is firm—until it is interrupted. Sixty years ago, children would read for hours. Their powers of concentration developed as naturally as breathing. Good readers became very good readers, even as men and women who go in for weight-lifting will bulk up . . . . Each of the four major networks now offers 52 minutes of commercials in the three hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day. It is equal to saying that every seven, 10 or 12 minutes, our attention to what is happening on the tube is cut into by a commercial. It is as bad for most children’s shows. Soon enough, children develop a fail-safe. Since the child knows that any interesting story will soon be amputated by a kaleidoscope of toys, food, dolls, clowns, new colors and the clutter of six or seven wholly different products all following one another in 10-, 20- and 30-second spots all the way through a three-minute break, the child also comes to recognize that concentration is not one’s friend but is treacherous. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Boob Tube Best or Worst

What are some of the television programs of the past or present that you would argue represent the best and worst television programs of all time?  Brainstorm a list of the best and worst television programs of all time.  Select one program that you know well, and make your argument for why this program is either the best or worst program.  Don’t assume your audience is familiar with the program. In addition to making your argument, give some background describing the program and its genre. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Television is a new medium. It’s called a medium because nothing is well-done. –Fred Allen

1-http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/newtonminow.htm

2-http://www.parade.com/articles/editions/2005/edition_01-23-2005/featured_0

 

May 6: Sub Four Day

On this day in 1954, English medical student Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile in a time of 3:59.4.  Before Bannister broke the four-minute barrier, the world record for the mile was 4:01.3. At the time, many thought that running under four minutes was physically impossible, but once Bannister did it, the barrier proved to be more of a psychological barrier than a physical one. A little more than a month after Bannister’s record run, Australian John Landy lowered the world record to 3:58 (2).

Long before the four-minute mile became a subject of public interest, there was another four-minute related event that played a part in the U.S. effort in World War I.  As the United States entered the war in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson realized that winning the propaganda war at home was in some ways just as important as winning the ground war in Europe.  

Wilson created an organization called the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to manage the news and to promote support for the war.  One essential wing of the CPI was a group called the “Four Minute Men,” an army of 75,000 volunteers who gave short speeches in support of the war whenever the opportunity presented itself.  For the CPI, the four-minute time limit was an essential element for success. Speeches need to be short, precise, and to the point. Long before anyone had ever heard of the “sound bite,” CPI published bulletins with tips on how to make every word of a speech count:

General Suggestions to Speakers

The speech must not be longer than four minutes, which means there is no time for a single wasted word.

Speakers should go over their speech time and time again until the ideas are firmly fixed in their mind and can not be forgotten. This does not mean that the speech needs to be written out and committed [memorized], although most speakers, especially when limited in time, do best to commit.

Divide your speech carefully into certain divisions, say 15 seconds for final appeal; 45 seconds to describe the bond; 15 seconds for opening words, etc., etc. Any plan is better than none, and it can be amended every day in the light of experience.

There never was a speech yet that couldn’t be improved. Never be satisfied with success. Aim to be more successful, and still more successful. So keep your eyes open. Read all the papers every day, to find a new slogan, or a new phraseology, or a new idea to replace something you have in your speech. (2)

The word propaganda derives from the Latin propagar, meaning to increase or to grow, as in the propagation of plants or crops. As a metaphor, it was originally used by the Catholic church, relating to the growth or spreading of the Christian faith.  It later evolved to be used in relation to the spreading of secular ideas. In the mid-19th century, the word began to acquire negative connotations based on its use in describing the deceptive promotion of political messages.

Today’s Challenge:  Speaking a Mile in Under Four Minutes

What is an idea that you have that is truly worth propagating or promoting?  Generate some claims that you truly feel are worth spreading, not through propaganda, but through the responsible use of persuasive appeals.  Write the text of a speech that will come in as close as possible, but not a second over, four minutes. (Common Core Writing 1 – Persuasion)

Quotation of the Day:  The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win. -Roger Bannister

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-four-minute-mile

2-http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4970/

April 30: Advantageous Day

On this day in 1939, New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig played his 2,130th consecutive major league game.  The game he played that day against the Washington Senators would also be the final game of his career. Not long after his final game, Gehrig learned that he had an incurable and fatal disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — a disease known today as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  

Lou Gehrig as a new Yankee 11 Jun 1923.jpgIn his 17 seasons, all as a Yankee, Gehrig was a World Series champion six times, an All-Star seven consecutive times, an American League Most Valuable Player twice, and a Triple Crown winner once.  Gehrig was the first major league baseball player to have his number (4) retired, and he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1939.

In June 1939, the New York Yankees officially announced Gehrig’s retirement, and on July 4, 1939, they invited him to speak at Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day (1).

On that day, Gehrig gave what has become not just one of the single most memorable speeches in sports history, but one of the most memorable speeches in history, period.

It was a speech of startling magnanimity.  Everyone in Yankee Stadium that day came to honor Gehrig and to share the sorrow of a career and a life that would be cut short.  Under the circumstances, it would be natural for the speaker to give a mournful, gloomy speech about himself, about his bad luck, and about all he had lost.  Instead, Gehrig spoke in positive and thankful tones, focusing not on himself but on all the people who helped to make him the “luckiest man in the world.”

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?

Sure I’m lucky.

Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?

Sure I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something.

When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something.

When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing.

When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.

So, I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.

The effectiveness of Gehrig’s speech illustrates an ancient principle of rhetoric.  Aristotle taught that giving a speech is about much more than just what you want to say; instead, it’s important to consider the audience.  The Aristotelian triangle is a model that helps speakers and writers assess the rhetorical situation. The triangle’s three points are the speaker, the subject, and the audience. Looking at all three points of the triangle reminds us that the speaker is only one part of the formula for successful persuasion.  Truly successful speakers, like Gehrig, must appeal to the audience’s advantage. Therefore, when we think about our purpose in speaking, we should not just ask, “What’s in it for us?” Instead, we should ask, “What’s in it for them?”  As the American humorist, Will Rogers put it: “When you go fishing you bait the hook, not with what you like, but what the fish likes” (2).

Winning rhetoric always employs “The Advantageous” by considering the rhetorical situation from the audience’s point of view.  Gehrig might have made his speech all about himself; instead, he made his message much more inclusive by considering his audience.  His thankful and optimistic tone transformed a seemingly sad, hopeless occasion into a positive, hopeful reminder of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

Today’s Challenge:  Aristotle, Ads, and Addresses

What are some examples of great speeches or classic advertisements where the speaker or the writer has employed the advantageous for effective persuasion?  Analyze a specific speech or advertisement that is an example of effective persuasion. Use the Aristotelian Triangle to discuss the relationship between the speaker, the audience, and the subject.  How did the speaker specifically relate and appeal to his or her audience to effectively fulfill the purpose? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Today’s Quotation:  . . . you need to convince your audience that the choice you offer is the most “advantageous” — to the advantage of the audience, that is, not you.  This brings us back to values. The advantageous is an outcome that gives the audience what it values. -Jay Heinrichs

1-http://sabr.org/gamesproj/game/april-30-1939-lou-gehrig-plays-his-final-game-yankees

2-Heinrich, Jay. Thank You For Arguing. Three Rivers Press, 2007.

 

April 18:  Definition Day

On this day in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Baltimore, Maryland.  In the midst of the Civil War, Maryland, a union state, was considering a new state constitution, which included a provision that would end slavery.  Lincoln, therefore, traveled to Baltimore to express his support for the constitutional change.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing engraved portrait of Lincoln as PresidentIn making his case, Lincoln focused on the idea of liberty and how the word was viewed and defined differently in the North and in the South (1).

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.

After talking about liberty in general terms, Lincoln then shifted to a concrete, showing illustration of his definition of liberty, a definition that was consistent with the changes being considered in Maryland, but which contrasted significantly with the Confederate view of liberty.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  The Word Became Flesh

What are some examples of abstract nouns — such as liberty, justice, success, or failure — that you could define using concrete examples and definitions?   Brainstorm a number of abstract words.  Then, pick one and write an extended definition of the word that gives more than just a dictionary definition.  Include, like Lincoln did with liberty, some specific, showing imagery as well as some examples that show how the word is defined by different people in different ways. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Today’s Quotation:  Perseverance is a great element of success.  If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1-http://www.lincolncottage.org/the-wolf-and-the-sheep/

2-http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/address-at-a-sanitary-fair/

 

April 4:  Courage to Speak and Write Day

On this day we remember two individuals.  The first is a historical figure who demonstrated great courage by speaking; the second is a fictional character who demonstrated great courage by writing.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was running for the Democratic nomination for president, was preparing to give a campaign speech in Indianapolis.  Just before he was scheduled to speak to the predominately African-American audience, Kennedy learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Kennedy was warned by the police that the crown had not yet heard the bad news and that they might become unruly or violent once they heard of King’s death. Despite the danger, Kennedy decided not only to address the audience but also to inform them of the tragedy.  

Kennedy spoke for fewer than five minutes, but what he said in those few minutes will never be forgotten.  He began by immediately delivering the bad news. After pausing for a moment to allow the shocked crowd to gather its wits, Kennedy reminded the audience of King’s efforts to replace violence with understanding and compassion.  He showed empathy for his audience, comparing the anger they were feeling to the anger he felt when his brother was killed by an assassin five years earlier in Dallas. Instead of focusing on the racial divide in the United States, Kennedy instead made an appeal for unity and for justice:

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr. did before him, Kennedy appealed to hope over despair and to peace over violence:

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Kennedy did not have to speak on April 4, 1968, and no one would have faulted him for canceling his appearance under the sad circumstances.  Nevertheless, Kennedy seized the moment to courageously present what was much more than just a campaign speech. His brief words transformed a moment of sorrow into a time of rededication to the mission of Martin Luther King, Jr. and to the what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Two months later, on June 5, 1968, Kennedy himself was assassinated after winning the California presidential primaries (1).

The second act of courage that took place on this day was in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In the novel’s opening chapter, the protagonist Winston Smith commits a forbidden act of rebellion, an act that we all take for granted. In the world of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the simple act that Winston performs could lead to punishment by death or a sentence of twenty-five years of forced labor:

The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. . . . He dipped the pen into the ink and then faltered for just a second. A tremor had gone through his bowels. To mark the paper was the decisive act. In small clumsy letters he wrote:

April 4th, 1984.

He sat back. A sense of complete helplessness had descended upon him.. . .

Suddenly he began writing in sheer panic, only imperfectly aware of what he was setting down. His small but childish handwriting straggled up and down the page, shedding first its capital letters and finally even its full stops:

April 4th, 1984. Last night to the flicks. All war films. . . .

1984first.jpgIn the dystopian world of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the one-party government of Oceania is in a perpetual state of war and is led by the all-seeing but unseen leader called Big Brother.  By putting his pen to paper, Winston Smith, a party worker, is committing the radical and unlawful act of expressing his own individual thoughts and questioning his government.

Today’s Challenge:   Courageous Call for Communication

What are the reasons we should not take our ability to read, think, speak, and write for granted?  In the years leading up to the American Revolution, John Adams wrote an essay called “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Federal Law” (1765).  In this essay, Adams laid the legal groundwork for the Revolution, challenging his readers to remember the important role that literacy plays as the foundation of human freedoms:

Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge.  Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.

Write a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that challenges your audience to reconsider and reimagine the importance of literacy — of speaking, writing, thinking, and writing.  Motivate your audience to rededicate themselves to these skills that we so often take for granted. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary thing that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it. -John Steinbeck

1-https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Statement-on-the-Assassination-of-Martin-Luther-King.aspx

 

March 23:  Classical Argument Day

On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry delivered one of the most memorable and most important speeches in American history.  The speech was delivered at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, to the 120 delegates of the Second Virginia Convention, which included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  

The question at hand was whether or not to mobilize military forces against the British.  Some held out hope for peaceful reconciliation with Britain, arguing against the motion to use force.  Henry, a 38-year old lawyer and politician, listened respectfully, then rose to give what is probably the best know call to arms in the history of rhetoric.  

In making his argument, Henry drew upon the classical arrangement of an argument, dating back to Aristotle and Cicero:

The Introduction (Exordium) – The Reason for Relevance

The Context (Narration) – The Context of the Controversy

The Thesis (Partition) – The Architecture of the Argument

The Evidence (Confirmation) – The Explanation of the Evidence

The Counterclaims (Refutation) – The Consideration of Counterclaims

The Conclusion (Peroration) – The Finish With a Flash

As we read Henry’s speech, we can break it into the six-part structure and examine how each part relates to the whole.

Exordium (Paragraphs 1-2):  Instead of beginning with a claim, the exordium seeks to win the attention and good will of the audience. Here Henry’s focus is on showing he is trustworthy and credible.  Notice how he shows respect to those who have spoken before him, while at the same time establishing his own forceful and confident voice:

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony.

The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Narration (Paragraphs 3-8 ): In the Narration a speaker gives the context for the argument.  Notice how Henry provides background on the issue at hand. Also, notice how instead of making declarations, he more subtly guides his audience to join in his conclusions through the use of rhetorical questions:

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.

Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort.

I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging.

And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer.

Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne!

Partition (Paragraph 9):  In the Partition, a speaker presents the thesis, the core argument being made.  Notice how Henry clearly and forcefully states his claim, not just once but twice:

In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free—if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending—if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained—we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

Confirmation and Refutation (Paragraphs 10-12):  In the Confirmation, a speaker supports the central argument with reasoning, proof, and evidence; in the Refutation, a speaker anticipates opposing claims and attempts to rebut them.  Notice how Henry builds his case for taking action and how he rebuts the case for inaction. Notice also how in addition to appealing to the logic of his audience, he uses powerful imagery to move his audience emotionally:

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.

Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

Peroration (Paragraphs 13-14):  In the Peroration, a speaker presents the grand finale by summarizing the case and by attempting to move the audience to action by appealing to emotion.  Henry has constructed and arranged his entire argument to culminate in a single dramatic crescendo:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Today’s Challenge:  Classical Arguments, Classical Choices

What are some examples of the kinds of fundamental choices people must make in their lives, such as to marry or to stay single, to go to college or to get a job out of high school, to join the military or to remain a civilian?  Brainstorm a list of at least 10 possible choices a typical person might make.  These may be monumental, life-altering choices, or they may be simple choices that an individual must make on a daily basis.  Select one of the key choices that you feel strongly about and construct a classical argument using Henry’s speech as your model.  Arrange your speech to include each of the six elements of the classical argument, and like Henry, make sure to end with a climactic peroration. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable. –Marcus Tullius Cicero

February 20: Four Freedoms Day

On this date in 1943, American artist Norman Rockwell published the first of his four prints depicting “The Four Freedoms.”  The prints were designed to illustrate “The Four Freedoms” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated in his January 6, 1941 State of the Union address:  freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

At the time of Roosevelt’s speech the United States had not yet entered World War II, but Roosevelt saw the dark clouds of war approaching.  His speech was a call for preparedness for war and a call to provide aid to allies fighting against anti-democratic forces around the world. For Roosevelt, the four freedoms were not just American values, they were values that needed to be preserved everywhere in the world:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world. (1)

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 12 months after Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, the United States ended its isolationism and entered the war.

After hearing Roosevelt’s speech and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Norman Rockwell was inspired to do his part by trying to capture and illustrate the abstract ideas of the Four Freedoms in concrete, human terms.  The first print, for example, depicts a scene of a local town meeting where a man wearing a plaid shirt and suede jacket stands among his fellow citizens to express his position.  Rockwell based the scene on an actual town meeting that he had attended where citizens gathered to discuss plans to build a new school in their town.  At the meeting, a lone dissenter named Jim Edgerton, a young blue-collar worker, stood to voice his opposition.  Rockwell remembered the scene vividly because although no one at the meeting agreed with Edgerton, they still listened to him respectfully.  

Each of Rockwell’s four prints appeared in the weekly magazine The Saturday Evening Post.  The prints proved so popular that the United States Department of the Treasury used them to promote the sale of war bonds.  The Four Freedoms Tour, which displayed the paintings around the country, raised over $130,000,000 (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Your Four

What is an abstract idea that you could classify into four types or four varieties?  Just as Roosevelt wrote about four types of freedoms, take an idea that you know something about and classify the idea in four distinct different types, such as four types of crime, shoppers, success, study habits, leaders, or bosses.  Make sure to use a single ruling principle for classification.  For example, if your topic was “English Classes” and you classified them as hard, challenging, and easy, your ruling principle for classification would be “level of difficulty.”  Based on this ruling principle, it would be illogical to add a classification called “homework.”  Instead create another category that fits the “level of difficulty” principle, such as “impossible.”  Once you have created your four classifications based on a single ruling principle, write a definition of each one, along with specific illustrating examples that show what makes each type distinctive from the others. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend to remember. -George Orwell

1-http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/fdr-the-four-freedoms-speech-text/

2-http://www.americainwwii.com/articles/norman-rockwell-and-the-four-freedoms/

 

December 14:  Eulogy Day

On this day in 1799 George Washington died at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Funeral memorials were held in major U.S. cities , and throughout the world people were saddened by Washington’s death.  In France, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered ten days of mourning for America’s great leader and Founding Father.

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpgFollowing Washington’s death, the Sixth Congress commissioned Henry Lee, the father of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee, to write a eulogy.  Having served under Washington as a major general in the Continental Army, Lee was a logical choice (1).

Written in the elaborate and elevated prose characteristic of the 18th century, Lee demonstrates mastery of parallelism as he praises his comrade in arms:

First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well spent life. Such was the man America has lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Word of Praise Before You Go

The word eulogy is from Greek meaning “praise.”  Although we normally associate eulogies with funerals, eulogies can also praise a person who is still alive.  Who is someone who is alive today that you think deserves sincere praise?  Write a eulogy for a living person.  Identify specifically the positive traits of this person with specific examples of what makes the person so special.  Whether or not the person is someone you have met, make it clear to the audience why this person means so much to you. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The promulgation of his fixed resolution stopped the anxious wishes of an affectionate people from adding a third unanimous testimonial of their unabated confidence in the man so long enthroned in their hearts. When before was affection like this exhibited on earth? Turn over the records of ancient Greece ; review the annals of mighty Rome ; examine the volumes of modern Europe – you search in vain. America and her Washington only afford the dignified exemplification. -Henry Lee on Washington

1-http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/

2-Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997: 169.

 

December 13:  Concession Day

On this day in 2000 one of the closest and most contentious presidential elections in U. S. history ended when Vice President Al Gore gave a speech conceding the presidency to George W. Bush.  The day before, the United States Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore ended voting recounts in the state of Florida and effectively awarded the election to Bush.  Although Gore won the plurality of the popular vote, he lost the election when Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to Bush.

Thus, on December 13, 2000, more than a month after Americans had cast their votes, Gore gave his concession speech:

Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession (1).

As Gore demonstrated in his speech, sometimes a politician has to admit defeat.  That does not mean, however, that the person is a failure.  After leaving public service, Gore gained prominence as an author and an environmental activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work in combating climate change.

In argumentation, instead of being an admission of defeat, a concession is an admission that a portion of an opposing argument is true.  Inexperienced writers often see concession as a weakness, but experienced writers know it is a powerful method for establishing common ground.

When a concession is carefully and clearly framed, it shows the audience that you have carefully considered both sides of the argument.  By clearly addressing the opposing views and showing that you understand them fully, you can better neutralize them by combining them with arguments that support your thesis.

Imagine for example that a police officer pulls over two drivers for speeding.  The first driver argues as follows:

“Officer, I wasn’t speeding and should not get a ticket.”

In contrast, the second driver states the following:

“Officer, I probably was going too fast, but if you look at my driving record, you’ll see that I’m a safe driver.”  

Which of the two drivers do think has the best chance of getting off with a warning?  If this were a bet, you probably would put your money on the second driver.  He understands that making a concession is not admitting defeat; instead, a concession is a valuable move, requiring that you give a little ground to gain a lot.

Today’s Challenge:  Comparison, Contrast, and Concession

Given two items in a category to debate, how might you include a concession in your argument?  Write a comparison and contrast paragraph in which you argue for the merits of one thing over the other.  Include a concession in your argument, acknowledging at least one of the merits of the opposition side.  Select one of the topics below, or come up with your own:

Seasons:  Summer or Winter?

Pets:  Cat or Dog?

Sports to watch:  Football or Baseball?

Sports to play:  Team or Individual?

Continents to Visit:  Europe or Australia?

Sci-Fi:  Star Wars or Star Trek?

Movie Genres:  Action or Comedy?

Political Parties:  Republican or Democrat?

Political Philosophies:  Capitalism or Socialism?

Books:  Fiction or Nonfiction?

Bands:  Beatles or Rolling Stones

Presidents:  Lincoln or F.D.R?

NBA Franchises:  Celtics or Lakers?

Fast Food Franchises:  McDonalds or KFC?

As you write make sure that you make a strong claim for your side of the argument while at the same time conceding a strength of the opposition’s side.  Use the templates below to help you frame your concession:

People who argue X are correct when they say that _______________; however, a more important point is _________________________________.

Admittedly it is true that _____________________________________, but it does not necessarily follow that _______________________________________.

Although it is true that _____________________, I believe __________________ because __________________________________________.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . one way to get people to agree with you is to agree with them — tactically, that is.  Agreeing up front does not mean giving up the argument.  Instead, use your opponent’s points to get what you want.  Practice rhetorical jujitsu by using your opponent’s own moves to throw him off balance.  -Jay Heinrichs

1-http://www.authentichistory.com/1993-2000/3-2000election/3-dispute/20001213_VP_Gore_Concession.html