A careful definition of terms employed should precede a discussion upon any given subject. A common meeting ground is thus provided, and a basis for treatment established. Hence, in the present instance, we must be absolutely sure just what Practical Talks are before we attempt to discuss their operation or the secret of their success.
In a questionnaire—that time-worn but useful means of gathering information—recently sent to a number of boys' work directors, this question was asked: "What is a Practical Talk?" The answers received were all interesting. Some were amusing. No two were exactly alike, and a variety of opinion was expressed. One man thought that a Practical Talk was "An informal lecture" on any subject—evidently; another said that they "could not be classified as religious or educational".
One would call every 4'inspirational talk, practical;" another would make them "object lessons." Some would confine them to " scientific and professional subjects" while others would have them consist only of "Life Problem Discussions." Still others would have every so called "talk" end with "an appeal for decisions to lead the Christian Life." Only twelve out of the forty men who replied seemed able to state clearly what a Practical Talk was. The remaining twentyeight gave the impression that the matter was not clear in their minds, although they all said that they were conducting "Practical Talks" in the Boys' Departments of which they were in charge. How it is possible for one to successfully conduct a thing when he does not know what that thing is, is beyond comprehension. However, that does not concern us here just now. Of the twelve commendable replies received, the following three seem to be the clearest:
(1) "A Practical Talk is an interesting address of educational value".
(2) "A Practical Talk is an address on an educational subject presented in a practical manner".
(3) "A Practical Talk is an address designed to have a practical bearing upon the physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, business, or home life of the boy".
In our judgment, all three of these definitions are good and substantially correct. Each states in different words that "A Practical Talk" is a useful talk. And after all, does not "practical" mean "useful?"
So much for the definition of the subject.
Assuming that our definition is the correct one, we may now ask, "How shall these 'Talks' be conducted or operated?" This question also appeared in our questionnaire. Here are quotations from some of the answers:
"In connection with group clubs—not big crowds".
"Under auspices of some club, other boys invited in".
"Not over twenty boys invited in".
"On Saturday nights for older boys, alternating with socials, entertainments, etc".
"Once a month".
"In combination with musical, gymnastic, or other entertaining features".
"As a separate feature".
"After Bible classes".
"Before gymnasium classes".
" On a special night".
"Dignified—as any other lecture".
"As informal as possible".
" Educational committee in charge".
"Managed by boys".
"Questions asked after address".
"One-half hour talk with questions following".
"In series, for boys of an age, occupation, and inclination".
There is a difference of opinion expressed in these answers, but a number of valuable points are brought out nevertheless.
(1) The "Talks" should be "managed by the boys" with the "Educational Committee," of course, "in charge." Here we touch one of the basic principles of boys' work. Perhaps the disregard of this principle explains why so many boys' work directors fail in the effort to conduct Practical Talks successfully. Is it possible that some of us have yet to learn the difference between "Work for boys" and "Boys' Work?"
(2) The majority of the men think that the "Talks" should be held "in connection with group clubs—not big crowds" and that age, inclination, and occupation ought to be considered. Instead of herding together high school boys, grammar school boys and office boys for a talk by some man on the subject "Why I am a lawyer," in which only a small proportion of the boys would be vitally interested, they should be divided into three or more groups and listen to as many talks suited to the needs and capacities of each group.
(3) The "Talks" should be conducted "in series," arranged so that one leads to another, and so on to a climax. The hit-or-miss practice of having a Practical.
Talk whenever the right man comes along, or whenever nothing else suggests itself to do, is a poor, short-sighted policy and accomplishes nothing. If a "Talk" is held simply for the sake of having something going on, and if it is not planned to definitely affect the lives of the boys who hear it, it had better not be given.
The secret of success in conducting Practical Talks has been discussed somewhat indirectly in the preceding paragraphs. But to quote from our questionnaire again, the secret of success is in:
"Having interesting subjects discussed by men of ability".
" Use of demonstration and illustration".
"Short, snappy, pointed talks".
"Making talks popular as well as instructive".
"Having well planned program".
Some of the causes of failure stated in the questionnaire were:
"Getting a miscellaneous crowd".
"Subjects too deep or uninteresting".
"Lack of care or thought in selecting topic and speaker".
"Failure to get co-operation of the boys in the plan".
"Not enough demonstration and illustration".
These statements of the causes of failure are valuable, but only inasmuch as they represent just so many pitfalls to be avoided. They need not worry us, for after all there is one secret to success. It may be stated in a single sentence. If the right boys are gathered together to hear the right subject discussed by the right man, no one need worry about the success of any Practical Talk.