A good many of us look upon public speaking as a formidable challenge. We feel it calls for a great deal of talent, thought and preparation. This, of course, is true, but what tends to be overlooked is the fact that all oral communication is, in a large sense, public speech. Unless one is talking to oneself, talk involves others and this means that we need to pay care and attention to what we say.
Though words are invisible and come across as mere sounds in the air, they possess tremendous power. They can make you laugh or cry, hate or love and fight or run away. In fact, words do not escape one’s lips without making an effect on the listener.
This is because they are alive with the intention that the speaker has in mind. As the writer Robert Burton observed, ‘A blow with a word strikes deeper than a blow with a sword.’
Words, like a knife, can hurt or heal. We rarely stop to perceive it, but it is intriguing to see how one’s thoughts and the words that flow from them can rapidly affect others. Imagine an angry and disappointed person entering a roomful of happy people.
It is safe to assume that his looks as well as his words match his mood. The moment he enters, all joyfulness melts away.
This is instantly replaced by an air of uneasiness and apprehension. On the other hand, when somebody bounces in with cheer and greets others happily, he is welcomed with great warmth and pleasure. Everyone is uplifted by his smile and his outgoing ways.
Even more important is the fact that the speaker’s words have an identical effect on his own self.
Negative words arise from negative thoughts. Indulging in them persistently will convert this into a habit of mind and become an inalienable part of the persona. In time, he will antagonise people and turn even more negative and critical.
Conversely, if we behave in a positive manner, it not only spreads congeniality but permeates our own lives as well. Praise and encouragement are actions that are invariably returned.
They make a person feel needed and wanted. Practised consistently, such positivity becomes a programme in the subconscious, making it second nature in the person.
Words, it has been pointed out, do not cost much but can accomplish a great deal. It is a concept well illustrated in this little anecdote. At a banquet held in honour of Marshal Foch, the commander-in-chief of World War I, a foreign participant remarked, “This courtesy business you French make so much of, there is nothing in it but wind.” “True,” reasoned Foch, “and there is nothing but wind in a tyre, but it makes the ride more smooth and pleasant.”
‘Watch your words’ is a simple prescription for happiness. As the Dalai Lama has put it, “If you want others to be happy, practise compassion. If you want to be happy, practise compassion.”