Lecture 6 – Emotions in Oral Communication

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3.  The strategic place and function of the emotions in oral communication

a.  It is an indisputable fact that the emotions cause great physiological effects in general.

1) Fear make the adrenal glands pump out adrenaline, increasing the heart rate.

2) Anxiety can influence the flow of digestive juices causing heartburn.

3) Grief opens up the tear ducts and makes the whole frame crumble with sobbing.


b.  Furthermore, it is an equally indisputable fact that the emotions exert a powerful influence on all the factors and faculties involved in oral communication in particular.

Illustration: a distraught mother whose child is trapped in a burning building. Her voice, her vocabulary, and her physical action are all driven by the powerful emotion of a mother’s love.

S. T. Sturtevant, The Preacher’s Manual Lectures in Preaching, (New York: J. C. Riker, 1846), pp. 334-335.

Joshua H. McIlvaine, Elocution: The Sources and Elements of Its Power, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1895), pp. 59-61.


c.  Here is the fundamental difference between a human being and a computerized voice. When the computerized robot speaks, there is no indication of the fluctuation or variety dictated by the emotional state of the speaker. It can say with exactly the same tone as the following two things:

1) Today is Friday–welcome to the pastoral theology class

2) A smoke detector has indicated that this building is on fire. Your life is in danger. Exit the building immediately.


d.  Not only do the emotions powerfully influence the speaker in oral communication, but they also have a profound influence upon the listener as well. It is a fact that for good or for evil, by means of truth or error, he who moves men’s affections, moves men. The Holy Spirit neither negates nor bypasses this fundamental reality of human experience. Rather, He lays hold of it and sublimates it to the accomplishment of the saving purposes of God.

Ebenezer Porter, Lectures on Homiletics and Preaching, and on Public Prayer; Together With Sermons and Letters, (New York: Jonathan Leavitt, 1834), pp. 456-457.


e.  Again, hear Dabney on this aspect of the place of the emotions in oral communication.

Robert L. Dabney, Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), pp. 561-562.

Robert L. Dabney, Sacred Rhetoric, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), pp. 247-249.


f.  It is Dabney’s clear view of this subject which makes his two chapters on “Persuasion” so powerful.


g.  It is this very persuasion that led the late Prof. John Murray to say these words: “To me, preaching without passion is not preaching at all.” (Murray’s Collected Writings, Vol. 3, p 72)


h.  If these perspectives relative to the relationship between the emotions and oral communication are valid, then is it not unthinkable that a man should stand before his fellow mortals with a mind impregnated with divine truth – his own affections warmed by the truth – and under the peculiar present assistance of the Holy Spirit connected with preaching – is it not unthinkable that emotional energy should not pulsate throughout his discourse?


i.  Furthermore, is it not the height of an unsound theology of the constitution of man as created in the image of God and redeemed by the grace of God which would assert that the intense emotional energy in preaching is both unwarranted, indiscreet, and even unnecessary? Or even worse, some regard it as profane and a pollution of the pulpit by the influence of the theater.

Illustration: Go back to the analogy of a distraught mother


j.  Rather, I trust we would all subscribe without reservation to the sentiments expressed by McIlvaine.

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