By John P. Riddell
Freemasonry is seriously indebted to those dedicated members of our Fraternity who labor for months and years in learning the various elements of ritual. I have often observed however, that the effort and valuable time spent in memorizing and perfecting these magnificent moral lessons is not always fully exploited; surprisingly, this is not the result of faulty or halting memory, but rather ineffective delivery.
How do we measure the effectiveness of delivery? Quite simply. Effective delivery is achieved whenever the candidate(audience?) has been able to hear clearly and to reasonably understand the information presented by the speaker.
There are five elements of delivery or speech (the terms are literally synonymous) - they are: knowledge of the subject, the speaker's conviction of his message, audibility, pronunciation, and articulation. This might sound like some complex literary exercise, but it really isn't.
Surely, every speaker should know instinctively if he is prepared, if he has adequately memorized and perfected his presentation, and that he himself is committed to the principles of his message; he must also know if he is speaking loud enough, and pronouncing his words correctly. When then, contributes most to poor speech or delivery? It is articulation. The mechanics of articulation, except perhaps for professionals, is rarely, if ever, obvious to most casual speakers. But, lack of attention to this vital element of speech can distant the information and, at times, make it almost unintelligible.
Articulation - what is it? It is a term that refers to the movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, and soft palate to form speech sounds. Good articulation involves production of sounds that are clear and distinct, without being overly precise. Don't confuse pronunciation with articulation. Pronunciation is combining speech sounds into recognizable words.
A speaker might survive pronunciation that is unacceptable to an audience; poor articulation however, makes a speaker much more difficult to understand, affecting both the attention and comprehension of his listeners. Poor articulation leaves out sounds, distorts sounds (most often by running them together), substitutes one sound for another, and occasionally adds strange sounds.
Remember, in a conversation, if poor articulation makes you difficult to understand, the listener can stop you and ask, "What did you say? I didn't understand that." But, when you're delivering a lecture, charge, or verse of scripture, that isn't possible. If you aren't understood, the idea is lost because there are no instant replays for the lecturer.
One note of caution - don't make the mistake of thinking that you should precisely form every sound. Over-articulation is also poor articulation. Good speech or delivery doesn't call attention to itself. If you said "I went to the movie last night." and tried to precisely articulate every "t" in the sentence, your delivery would be unnatural, and call attention to itself.
In addition, "the" should be the sound of "thu." To say "the" with the long "e" would overstress the word and would not be natural. By overstressing these sounds, the speaker looses the natural rhythms of speech, and creates the perception of insincerity - that he might be more concerned with his image than his message. I suppose that some ritualists privately applaud themselves at the completion of a lecture, charge, prayer or scripture; there was nothing omitted and they managed to survive the ordeal. But, were they effective?
Did the candidate and others who were listening hear clearly; did they reasonably understand the message? If not, it was probably due to poor articulation - speaking too rapidly, distorting words by running sounds together, overstressing sounds, omitting sounds.
It is difficult to understand a speaker under these conditions - especially during the period when a candidate is hoodwinked - he doesn't even have the opportunity to read the lips of the person speaking.
All of us are veteran Masons, and have been exposed to this "ritual stuff" many many times. We've sat through the ceremonies of opening and closing lodges conferring the three degrees, installations, funeral services - much of this rendered almost unintelligible by sloppy speech - poor articulation. But this doesn't bother us because we've heard it so often that we can mentally fill in the gaps left void by careless speakers. But Brethren, can't you just imagine how some of this might sound to new candidates or Masons hearing it for the first time. Remember, if you are not understood, you've wasted your time in delivering the message, you've failed to take advantage of the time and effort in learning the work, and even worse, you've left thoroughly confused listeners.