Squeakin’ Lincoln and the Art of Public Speaking
Given the renewed interest these days in all things Lincoln, I decided to try to learn a little about his speaking style.
Take a look at these descriptions of Abraham Lincoln’s speaking style, as quoted in the site, Abraham Lincoln Online:
Lincoln’s voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant; his general look, his form, his pose, the color of his flesh, wrinkled and dry, his sensitiveness, and his momentary diffidence, everything seemed to be against him, but he soon recovered.
–William H. Herndon letter, July 19, 1887
Shrill. Squeaking. Unpleasant. Wrinkled and Dry Flesh?
Given his rough starts, how can it be that Lincoln is viewed as one of the great orators of history?
Perhaps this memory from Abram Bergen (Intimate Memories of Lincoln) may help explain:
Whenever he began to talk his eyes flashed and every facial movement helped express his idea and feeling. Then involuntarily vanished all thought or consciousness of his uncouth appearance, or awkward manner, or even his high keyed, unpleasant voice.
Lincoln’s conviction and passion seemed to erase any physical distractions. How? Because he was able to synthesize body and language. “Every facial movement helped express his idea and feeling.” The audience was able to forget his high-pitched voice because when he got into the speech – every part of him joined together to communicate a single idea.
By matching his externals and internals, Lincoln mastered the art of public speaking.
From the Green Room: The key to a great delivery is matching it to your message. The audience will pay attention, when what they hear is also what they see.