Hermann Duncker 1923

Advice to Speakers

First Published: in Kommunistische Partei-Korrespondenz, 3 (July 1, 1923) 13, p. 115-16 and Der Parteiarbeiter, 1 (August 15, 1923) 9, p. 89-90.
Source: Hermann Duncker: Introduction to Marxism. Selected Speeches and Writings, VEB Edition Leipzig, Leipzig, 1963, 2. enl. ed., pp. 44-47.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive 2021
Transcribed: Geoff
HTML Markup: Zdravko Saveski

One often meets with the question of how to prepare a talk or lecture in party circles, and yet not nearly often enough when you think of the large and rapidly growing number of party functionaries and the even more rapidly expanding scope of their work. Unfortunately now and then you find the timid, petit-bourgeois idea that only a "leading personality" is qualified to give a talk and that, apart from the "big guns", no one should dare open his mouth. Or one meets the naive self-satisfaction of those who always open their mouth, nattering about everything and, in fact, saying nothing. One should reflect before one speaks. One should prepare oneself if one wants to give a lecture. But apart from that the ability to speak is definitely not such a rare gift as the tenor voice of a Caruso. Anyone with the will and energy, who does not shirk the preparatory work to that end, can become a speaker. Everyone has a voice to throw into the balance in an exchange of opinions. And everyone must do so, if he does not want to appear as a political poltroon. Behind the excuse "I cannot speak" are concealed just ignorance and indolence, in 99 out of 100 cases. Goethe makes Faust say:

"True insight and true sense will make,
Their point without the rhetoric school,
And given a thought that must be heard,
Is there such need to chase a word?"

In what follows we will just try to give some little guidance having in mind, above all, speaking on political or trade union matters. The main thing, however, is still the patient, indefatigable practice, in which failure should never dishearten. One cannot learn to swim without getting into the water.

1. When shall I speak?

Always, if in a given circle, be it a factory group or branch, fraction or trade union, party or public meeting, no one has said that which is most important, that which would sort things out. If I see that no one of greater expert knowledge and experience has been moved to say the redeeming word: then is the time to plunge in boldly. On condition, of course, that one is quite clear in oneself about what to say. In private discussion a problem may be clarified through the process of discussion itself. In a public statement, however, I can only make things clear if I am clear in my own mind already. If one has only a vague idea inside one about the matter in question, then one can only speak vaguely. On the contrary one must give of one's best if it is to have any effect on the hearer.

We must emphasise time and time again that knowledge of the facts one is going to talk about, is the most pressing and almost the only essential pre-condition for the speaker. The more thoroughly I master the subject, then the more thoroughly I will speak on it. No formal speech craft can alter that. Devil take fluency of speech if it serves its owner merely to talk around the subject, piling word on word and after unlimited verbosity to have said nothing.

2. Choice of subject

In political speeches, it is mostly that which is closest to the heart politically which also comes most readily from the heart rhetorically. It is always best to start with the latest event which preoccupies everyone, or with those conditions which plague everyone. In that way one can. also give the subject a more concrete form than, for example, in the phrase so often heard, "On the political situation".

The subject should produce the same effect as a poster. It should shake people up from the start. "The people's dying conditions" is certainly a more effective title than "Health conditions in present-day Germany".

The speaker for this part has of course the duty to stick to the subject. It is quite inadmissable if themes are to be dug out by some third party, and the speaker who has been brought along finds out just as he is starting what he is really supposed to speak about.

3. Preparing the material

Here we come to the most intensive work which must be carried on continually if one wants to be equipped as a speaker. It is necessary to have carefully collected and sifted important facts of a political, economic and social nature over a long period, right up to the present. In other words, set up a political filing system. Every newspaper should be read with scissors and a pencil. But one should not forget to mark the source (name of newspaper and date) on the cutting. But do not mutilate books by taking cuttings from them. One can, however, very well make marks and underline anything which might be particularly effective to refer to. According to circumstances, one may incorporate in one's filing system a sheet with a reference to the place in the book, or if possible a copy of the quotation. But it is important not just to collect such material, for then one would soon have a whole mountain of notes - but also to sift the material, dividing up and sorting out the notes under certain headings. A number of little boxes or folders or, if it comes to that, just a number of envelopes, each with the relevant entry, and the whole with its register of headings can contain the cuttings. In the choice of headings a whole series suggest them selves without more ado, and these can be retained for at long time. Naturally the choice of headings under which the material will be collected and arranged, will depend on the field of interest and the particular intention of the speaker concerned. So when one is preparing a talk, one chooses the relevant notes from one's collection and arranges them according to the course the speech will take.