Have you ever wondered what Charles Spurgeon’s voice sounded like?
After Spurgeon’s death, Edison-Bell Record Company recorded a two-minute audio clip of his son, Thomas, reading an excerpt of his father’s sermon. But Thomas’s voice was was “not quite that of Charles Spurgeon, not quite so strong and not quite so musical” (Fullerton, 167). Besides, Thomas took after his mother in countenance; his brother, Charles Jr., favored their father.
Charles Spurgeon spoke more quickly, too – 140 words per minute. His voice was described as “a silver bell” (The Eclectic Review, January-June, 1867) and “sweet and musical; with a rich under-current that always reminds us of the roll of the organ” (Falkirk Herald, February 6, 1868).
James Sheridan Knowles, an Irish actor who would have been Spurgeon’s elocution teacher at Stepney College, told his students:
[Spurgeon] is only a boy, but he is the most wonderful preacher in the world. He is absolutely perfect in his oratory; and, beside that, a master in the art of acting. He has nothing to learn from me, or anyone else. He is simply perfect. He knows everything. He can do anything. . . . Why, boys, he can do anything he pleases with his audience! He can make them laugh, and cry, and laugh again, in five minutes (Autobiography1:354).
The actor was not exaggerating. In 1855, 21-year-old Spurgeon wrote in a letter to his brother, “I believe I could secure a crowded audience at dead of night in a deep snow”(Autobiography 2:99). The very next year, a biography was published in New York comparing the young preacher to George Whitefield. He was also compared to Sims Reeves – one of the most popular opera singers of the century.
So what was Spurgeon’s secret? How did the “Prince of Preachers” master the art of public speaking? Here are ten tips from Spurgeon’s lecture “On the Voice” (Lectures to My Students 11:117-135).
1. Posture Up!
“Do not speak with your hands in your waistcoat pockets so as to contract your lungs, but throw the shoulders back, as public singers do.”
“Do not lean over a desk while speaking, and never hold the head down on the breast while preaching. Upward rather than downward let the body bend.”
“Off with all tight cravats and button-up waistcoats; leave room for the full play of the bellows and the pipes.”
2. Speak with Your Mouth, Not Your Throat or Nose.
“Open wide the doors from which such godly truth is to march forth.”
“One of the surest ways to kill yourself is to speak from the throat instead of the mouth.”
“Evangelists have written of our Lord, ‘He opened his mouth and taught them.’”
“Avoid the use of the nose as an organ of speech, for the best authorities are agreed that it is intended to smell with.”
3. “R” ticulate.
“Abhor the practice of some men, who will not bring out the letter “r” such a habit is ‘vewy wuinous and wediculous, vewy wetched and wepwehensible.’”
“Take great care of the consonants, enunciate every one of them clearly; they are the features and expression of the words. . . . The vowels have a voice of their own, and therefore they can speak for themselves.”
“Excessively rapid speaking, tearing and raving into utter rant, is quite as inexcusable; it is not, and never can be powerful, except with idiots, for it turns what should be an army of words into a mob, and most effectually drowns the sense in floods of sound.”
4. You Don’t Have to Raise Your Voice to Raise the Dead.
“A bell will be heard much further off than a drum; and, very singularly, the more musical a sound is the farther it travels.”
“Do not start at the highest pitch as a rule, for then you will not be able to rise when you warm with the work.”
“Lower the voice when suitable even to a whisper; for soft, deliberate, solemn utterances are not only a relief to the ear, but have a great aptitude to reach the heart.”
“It is a cruel thing to sit down by a sick man’s bed-side, and shout out ‘THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD.’”
“Try all methods, from the sledge-hammer to the puff-ball. Be as gentle as a zephyr and as furious as a tornado.”
5. Perspiration Is Not Always Inspiration.
“It is an infliction not to be endured twice, to hear a brother who mistakes perspiration for inspiration.”
“Your audience ought not to know that you breathe at all—the process of respiration should be as unobserved as the circulation of the blood.”
6. Be Yourself.
“Speak softly or loudly, as the emotion of the moment may suggest, and observe no artificial and fanciful rules.”
“I tell you most seriously, that the thing called ‘effect,’ is hateful, because it is untrue, artificial, tricky, and therefore despicable. Never do anything for effect.”
“Be, indeed, just what every common-sense person is in his speech when he talks naturally, pleads vehemently, whispers confidently, appeals plaintively, or publishes distinctly.”
7. Vary Your Voice.
“Speak out boldly, and command attention at the very outset by your manly tones.”
“Lazarus is not called out of his grave by hollow moans.”
“It is not the thumping of the piano which is needed, but the judicious sounding of the best keys.”
“Ink is necessary to write with, but if you upset the ink bottle over the sheet of paper, you convey no meaning thereby, so is it with sound; sound is the ink, but management is needed, not quantity, to produce an intelligible writing upon the ear.”
8. Embrace Criticism.
“Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely.”
“What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool!”
“Correct yourself diligently and frequently, or you will fall into errors unawares, false tones will grow, and slovenly habits will form insensibly; therefore criticise yourself with unceasing care.”
“Think nothing little by which you may be even a little more useful.”
9. Drink Chili Vinegar and Beef-Tea.
“I always had a little glass of Chili vinegar and water just in front of me, a draught of which appeared to give a fresh force to the throat whenever it grew weary and the voice appeared likely to break down.”
“When the throat becomes a little relaxed I usually ask the cook to prepare me a basin of beef-tea, as strong with pepper as can be borne, and hitherto this has been a sovereign remedy.”
“In all other matters exercise a rigid discipline until you have mastered your voice, and have it in hand like a well-trained steed.”
“Think of Michael Angelo working for a week without taking off his clothes, and Handel hollowing out every key of his harpsichord, like a spoon, by incessant practice. Gentlemen, after this, never talk of difficulty or weariness.”
“We are bound to use every possible means to perfect the voice by which we are to tell forth the glorious Gospel of the blessed God.”
“Take heart, young brother, persevere, and God, and nature, and practice, will help you.”
Read about the time Charles Spurgeon was merely practicing a sermon and a janitor heard him and was converted.