What Is Public Speaking?

Published on 04.14.2021

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Just what is public speaking anyways? Blogger Alison Hartzler guides us through a few ways to think about this important term!

“From the moment as a child when we realized that the world could be conquered. It has been a lifetime struggle, a never-ending fight. I say to you, and you will understand that it is a privilege to fight! We are warriors! Salesmen of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I ask you once more: Rise and be worthy of this historical hour!”

These are the famous words spoken by the winner of the highest possible honor that a Northeastern Pennsylvania based mid-size paper company regional salesman could attain, Dwight Schrute. 

While there are many different facets to a speech, the three basic functions would be to persuade, entertain, or to inform. Cambridge dictionary defines public speaking as “the activity of speaking on a subject to a group of people.” 

This seems simple enough. Under this definition, a team captain pumping up his players before a game would be considered public speaking. A teacher conveying the rules of the playground to her children would be considered public speaking. Even a guy telling a joke to some peers at work would be considered public speaking. It’s everywhere.

There are five questions to ask when understanding public speaking. Let’s consider the example of the teacher instructing her children on the rules of the playground:

1. Who is the source of the message?

One cannot have a speech without a speaker. It is quite clear in our example that the source of the message is the teacher. 

But what makes a good public speaker? Well that depends on the purpose. If your purpose is to inform, you want to be clear, articulate, and concise. 

If your purpose is to entertain, your tone and timing are important. 

If you are attempting to persuade, all of the above is critical. 

According to Winning Feathers’ coach, Taylor Ventura, a good speaker has practiced clarity, tone, pace, relatability, posture, and eye contact. Anyone can give a speech, but only the successful know how to deliver.

2. What is the message itself?

Usually, when the topic of public speaking comes up, most would think of politicians explaining new legislation, public figures speaking on important issues, or even popular influencers. 

However, as we’ve seen from our definition, a speech can be about almost anything. You could give a speech about how to make the perfect banana split sunday, or why Marvel is better than DC. Even captivating an audience with a good story is considered public speaking.

As long as you have a group of people to listen to your speech, your message could be anything. In our example of the teacher and her students, her message was about the rules of the playground.

3. Who is the audience?

An “audience” is anything over two people.

The audience is one of the most important components to consider when preparing a speech. To be successful, the speaker needs to speak to their audience. This sounds obvious, but is more complicated than you’d think.

Consider, for example, our teacher instructing her children. She needs to speak to them in a way that they will absorb the information and remember it. 

She might use colorful visuals or perhaps some fun rhymes. But what if she is speaking to the parents? They probably wouldn’t appreciate catchy songs the way the children would. Instead, she might have an informative powerpoint prepared and some data to back up her points.

Connecting with the audience is crucial when giving a speech.

4. What is the medium for the speech?

This just means what method is her speech being delivered.

Most of the time speeches are done in front of a live audience, such as our example. So the medium here would be orally to auditory.

However, much of the time speeches are televised, in which case the medium would be the TV. Or, in more recent times, when things are being done through a laptop and over video chat, the medium would be the computer. 

5. What is the effect of the speech?

The effect of the speech is what the deserted outcome would be.

As mentioned above, speeches could have the intent to either persuade, entertain, or to inform.

In our example, the teacher is hoping her children will follow these rules so as to stay safe on the playground, so this would classify as an intent to inform.

Public speaking has a much bigger role in our lives than most believe. A new study suggests that 70% of all jobs involve some sort of public speaking. While it takes multiple forms, the skills are all the same and couldn’t be more important in today’s society. Therefore, the simplicity of the definition for public speaking really does reach the masses, expanding across nearly all aspects of our lives and making this somewhat daunting task, unavoidable.

What Is Public Speaking?

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