Change of Tempo Produces Emphasis
Any big change of tempo is emphatic and will catch the attention. You may scarcely be conscious that a passenger train is moving when it is flying over the rails at ninety miles an hour, but if it slows down very suddenly to a ten-mile gait your attention will be drawn to it very decidedly. You may forget that you are listening to music as you dine, but let the orchestra either increase or diminish its tempo in a very marked degree and your attention will be arrested at once.
This same principle will procure emphasis in a speech. If you have a point that you want to bring home to your audience forcefully, make a sudden and great change of tempo, and they will be powerless to keep from paying attention to that point. Recently the present writer saw a play in which these lines were spoken:
“I don’t want you to forget what I said. I want you to remember it the longest day you—I don’t care if you’ve got six guns.” The part up to the dash was delivered in a very slow tempo, the remainder was named out at lightning speed, as the character who was spoken to drew a revolver. The effect was so emphatic that the lines are remembered six months afterwards, while most of the play has faded from memory. The student who has powers of observation will see this principle applied by all our best actors in their efforts to get emphasis where emphasis is due. But remember that the emotion in the matter must warrant the intensity in the manner, or the effect will be ridiculous. Too many public speakers are impressive over nothing.
Thought rather than rules must govern you while practising change of pace. It is often a matter of no consequence which part of a sentence is spoken slowly and which is given in fast tempo. The main thing to be desired is the change itself. For example, in the selection, “The Mob,” on page 46, note the last paragraph. Reverse the instructions given, delivering everything that is marked for slow tempo, quickly; and everything that is marked for quick tempo, slowly. You will note that the force or meaning of the passage has not been destroyed.
However, many passages cannot be changed to a slow tempo without destroying their force. Instances: The Patrick Henry speech on page 110, and the following passage from Whittier’s “Barefoot Boy.”
O for boyhood’s time of June, crowding years in one brief moon, when all things I heard or saw, me, their master, waited for. I was rich in flowers and trees, humming-birds and honey-bees; for my sport the squirrel played; plied the snouted mole his spade; for my taste the blackberry cone purpled over hedge and stone; laughed the brook for my delight through the day and through the night, whispering at the garden wall, talked with me from fall to fall; mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond; mine the walnut slopes beyond; mine, an bending orchard trees, apples of Hesperides! Still, as my horizon grew, larger grew my riches, too; all the world I saw or knew seemed a complex Chinese toy, fashioned for a barefoot boy!—J.G. Whittier.
Be careful in regulating your tempo not to get your movement too fast. This is a common fault with amateur speakers. Mrs. Siddons rule was, “Take time.” A hundred years ago there was used in medical circles a preparation known as “the shot gun remedy;” it was a mixture of about fifty different ingredients, and was given to the patient in the hope that at least one of them would prove efficacious! That seems a rather poor scheme for medical practice, but it is good to use “shot gun” tempo for most speeches, as it gives a variety. Tempo, like diet, is best when mixed.
To your public speaking success