For the Bookshelf: How To Speak and How To Listen

For the Bookshelf: How To Speak and How To Listen

By guest blogger Eryn Van Lear.

January 16, 2017—In How to Speak and How to Listen (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983) American philosopher Mortimer Adler breaks down several keys to public speaking and to intentional listening in three sections framed by a prologue and epilogue. These sections encompass the process used in speaking and listening that Adler feels should be incorporated in every “heart-to-heart talk,” personal conversation, and public speeches.

Section one, with the prologue, covers the social aspects of speaking and listening. By associating speaking and listening as constant social activities, Adler presents the idea that these skills are not taught, but instead he insists that these qualities are picked up the more a person is involved in any social activity. He looks at the definition of conversation and communication and the social aspects of each category.

Section two, categorized by the phrase “uninterrupted speech,” introduces three forms of speaking in public as well as the details involved in creating and giving a speech to a captive/non-captive audience. Adler refers to are rhetoric speech, persuasive speech, and instructive speech and defines each one. He explains rhetoric speech as oratory style which is made without becoming intensively involved in the subject being considered. Persuasive speech encompasses the “feeling” the subject brings and combines three factors – ethos, pathos, and logos where the term logos is broken down into the areas of taxis and lexis. Instructive speech, Adler insists, must be a comfort level with the topic so that speech comes across in such a way that allows the audience to increase their knowledge in the subject.

Section three of this text covers the art of silent listening as well as introducing the general styles of writing a speech. Adler claims that in order to change the action of listening into the art of listening the audience must put forth some effort in hearing and understanding the words of the speaker. He states that in order to be able to fully appreciate the art of speaking, listening is key. Listening is not observing the speaker and what (s)he is saying and forming opinions immediately after the words are spoken; instead the art of listening involves actively trying to pull information out of the presentation and forming opinions after the speaker has had a chance to express her/his thoughts. In the art of writing a speech Adler presents styles that incorporate outlining a speech and writing a full paper before the speech is given. His stance, concerning the creation of speeches, is that the best style of writing is a combination of these two approaches. This manner of writing presents a way for the audience to grasp a hold of the points that need to be made.

Finally, sections four and five incorporate the questions and answers sections of a speech as well as the aspects of life conversation. These two sections bring to a close the ideas that are presented with the introduction of the three speech styles. Adler includes discussion on many of the common speeches that are given every day as people approach others and enter into a conversation sharing ideas and stances on many different subjects.

Adler presents many different ideas that shape the ideas of writing, giving, and listening to a speech. He opens the door to creating and giving speeches that are not only well attended but listened to as well. Adler presents the art of speaking and listening as parallels to the art of reading and writing and establishes a good comparison as it takes effort on the part of the creator/hearer to truly understand the emphasis of the subject that is being conveyed. Even though Adler presents his thoughts through many stories of his past, his terms are well defined and well articulated throughout the five sections. His approach leaves the reader with the idea of good speaking techniques and how to utilize them in order to communicate will organized ideas and information.

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