Public speaking: an act that inspires both emotional terror and awe.
Satisfaction and panic.
Ambition and anxiety.
Public speaking can really trigger a whirlwind of emotions.
Apparently, "according to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy." Jerry Seinfield sums it up perfectly for us.
That said, we believe public speaking can be a wonderful act and an enriching experience if we:
- know how to overcome our fears;
- learn from good and competent speakers;
- realize that preparation is key;
- understand the potential behind each public speaking event.
In essence, we prepared this article to explain all these things, and generally help you with your public speaking practice.
Let’s dive into it.
What Is Public Speaking?
Public speaking refers to the act of giving a speech about a specific topic in front of a live audience. Here’s a more detailed definition:
Public speaking is a process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners. It is closely allied to "presenting", although the latter has more of a commercial advertisement connotation. Public speaking is commonly understood as a kind of face-to-face speaking between individuals and audience for the purpose of communication.
Public speaking is a versatile activity:
- It requires deep thinking. This is especially true when you’re in the process of coming up with a topic, researching it, and making an outline of your speech.
- It asks for good writing skills. Once you compile your notes, or at least come up with some sort of a draft for your speech, it follows logically to write the whole version of it down.
- It forces you to pay attention to your body language, overall posture, and facial expressions.
- It teaches you patience. First, you need to write the speech and then practice it at least several times before doing an actual performance - it’s a long process which eventually pays off.
In general, public speaking may be perceived as a common “activity” for some (depending on their job position or daily practices), while for others it may cause a great deal of anxiety. If that’s the case, these individuals may be dealing with glossophobia.
Glossophobia is a term that refers to the fear of public speaking. The term comes from the Greek γλῶσσα - glōssa, meaning tongue, and φόβος - phobos, which means fear or dread.
This type of speech anxiety can trigger a fight-or-flight response, affect one’s self-esteem and overall confidence, and cause a lot of stress and worry. Many people who suffer from glossophobia deal with social anxiety and similar phobias.
Glossophobia is much more common than you think. In fact, it’s estimated that 77% of the population have some level of anxiety in relation to public speaking. Here are more statistics from 2020 related to the fear of public speaking:
- Around 89.4% of patients with social anxiety have a fear of public speaking;
- It’s estimated that some 15 million people deal with glossophobia each day;
- Last year, prevalence of a specific phobia among adults was higher for females (12.2%) than for males (5.8%) out of which:
- 21.9% had a serious impairment;
- 30% had a moderate impairment;
- 48.1% had a mild impairment;
- Only 8% of those who have fear of public speaking seek professional help;
- About 90% of the anxiety we feel before making a presentation comes from a lack of preparation;
- Overall confidence is said to increase with age, with 69% of people aged 45 and over feeling quite or very confident compared to only 25% of people that are 16 to 24 years old;
- Research estimates put the price tag on treating anxiety disorders and phobias such as glossophobia is between 42.3$ billion and 46.6$ billion per year.
We understand that while stats like these can be helpful in showing us we’re not alone in our anxiety, they aren’t “healing”, meaning they don’t address our problems.
In our FAQ section, we talk about speech anxiety and we share some tips on how to overcome it, so make sure you read our article until the end or jump to that particular section.
Public Speaking Definition
Public speaking is:
- usually done before a live audience;
- traditionally seen as a part of the so-called art of persuasion (if you wish to explore persuasion as a concept further, take a look at our online persuasion course);
- very stressful, but also very meaningful;
- often about the way something is said rather than what is being said;
- done is several stages:
- coming up with a topic (or sometimes it may already be given);
- writing the actual speech;
- overcoming fears of public speaking (if any);
- practising the speech for some time;
- delivering the speech in front of an audience.
- also referred to as an oratory or oration;
- capable of including both formal and informal forms of speaking;
- said to convey different purposes depending on the context:
- transmitting information;
- motivating people;
- sharing a message;
- encouraging people, and so on.
- best done when it’s practiced properly;
- a learning experience both for the audience and the speaker;
- supposed to convey the speaker’s authenticity, style, character, and thoughts;
- meant to help you in life, not intimidate you (Gerald R. Ford said: “If I went back to college again, I’d concentrate on two areas: learning to write and to speak before an audience. Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively”).
Public speaking isn’t:
- the same as an online presentation (the latter can usually be viewed and listened to at the viewers’ convenience, whereas public speeches are limited to a specific time and place);
- incoherent talking;
- always accompanied by visuals (although they help in conveying the message in some cases);
- exactly the same as storytelling (although a speech may have storytelling elements);
- always done by professionals (anyone can engage in public speaking);
- easy for everybody (the majority of people experience some sort of discomfort, anxiety or worry before giving a speech - others may even suffer from glossophobia);
- for those who don’t know how to accept criticism (it’s simply part of the public speaking experience, and people are entitled to having different opinions and impressions);
- for those who aren’t willing to improvise (even if you’ve practised the same speech time and time again, things happen so you may need to be quick on your feet);
The History of Public Speaking
In all probability, there’s been public speaking for as long as speech has existed. In this sense, we probably shouldn't dwell too much on the historical development of public speaking, as it seems quite self-explanatory.
That being said, there are certainly some historical contexts and situations that tell us a bit about how public speaking came to be a formal discipline.
Namely, most scholars trace the beginnings of public speaking to ancient Greece and Rome. Of course, those public speaking practices were much different than what we’re used to today (no slideshows, or any similar technological equipment). Yet, that’s what made public speaking so relevant. The focus was on the speech, and on the speech alone.
That’s why most of those methods and public speaking practices are still taught today. For instance, public speaking at the time was generally used to persuade others. In fact, public speaking was even referred to as rhetoric. In fact, rhetoric was the main component of speech delivery, and every soldier and citizen who wished to succeed in politics, court, and social life in general, had to master public speaking.
Today, public speaking is much more flexible and common. Yet, the need for it to be as organized as it used to be remains.
Throughout our article we’ll explore common uses of public speaking and elaborate on potential situations and events that may require it. But first, let’s take a look at actual speeches that have had an important historical impact.
After all, they show us everything that we’re theorizing and speculating about in practice.
Famous Speeches Throughout History
Famous speeches tend to become famous for a reason - it could be the topic’s relevance, the speaker’s charisma, and/or the historical context which “called for” that specific speech. Whatever the reason, nowadays there are many historic speeches that have stood the test of time.
They are a part of school curricula, presentations, discussions, and now - some of them are even included in our article as relevant examples.
We hope you’ll enjoy the speeches we selected, as it definitely wasn’t an easy choice. Or, you could jump to the next section, where we illustrate the importance of public speaking.
“No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it. “
- An extract from Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech
“General Westmoreland, General Grove, distinguished guests, and gentlemen of the Corps!
As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, "Where are you bound for, General?" And when I replied, "West Point," he remarked, "Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?"
No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this [Thayer Award]. Coming from a profession I have served so long, and a people I have loved so well, it fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code -- the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the animation of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always.
Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.
The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.”
- An extract from Douglas McArthur’s “Duty, Honor, Country” speech
“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
- An extract from Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech.
*Please note we’ve included an extract from the same speech in our Leadership article too, as we consider this to be one of the most memorable speeches in history.
“Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Amercans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively and positively, negatively and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.
What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.
What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed.”
- An extract from Frederik Douglass’ "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” speech
Why Is Public Speaking Important?
First and foremost, public speaking helps improve all areas of your life by making you a better communicator. It helps you express your thoughts, opinions, and views in a much more appropriate manner.
Additionally, in today’s era, being capable of presenting something in front of an audience is a crucial skill. It can advance your career and provide you with better professional opportunities such as:
- A higher salary and a promotion;
- The ability to handle versatile job tasks (conducting interviews, recruiting teams and prospective employees, attending and presenting at conferences, organizing meetings, and so on);
- Better communication with your colleagues and superiors;
- An increase in your self-confidence.
On the whole, public speaking skills can definitely enhance your job prospects.
Public speaking can greatly help in your personal life, too. Namely, you can meet more people and be more comfortable about it than others. It will also help you leave a good first impression, which is quite significant, as we live in a fast-paced world where people form opinions and make decisions within seconds.
To read more about the implications public speaking has on your daily life, head over to the Examples of Public Speaking in Everyday Life section to learn more about it.
So, overall, public speaking helps you win over the crowd, express yourself clearly, motivate other people, and succeed in your chosen field.
How to Develop Public Speaking
There are many ways to develop your public speaking skills, and the best part about it is that you actually end up working on other related skills, too. What do we mean by this?
Well, for starters, public speaking requires critical thinking, proper writing, and body language reading skills, to name a few.
So, to develop your public speaking skills, consider doing some of the following:
- work on your critical thinking skills (think about your topics in depth, analyze them from several different aspects, see which ones resonate with you, and how you can potentially apply them);
- explore your writing skills some more (take notes, write draft versions along with the actual speech, to see where your writing takes you each time);
- pay attention to your voice (be mindful of how you speak and what you speak about, to see whether you need to make some changes);
- pay attention to your body language (a tip: try practicing your speech in front of a mirror, or if this feels weird, simply record yourself - but remember to be as objective as possible; the point is to learn how to use your body and hands effectively, not to make “nervous” gestures);
- work on your memory (and don’t read from your notes unless you really have to);
- learn to embrace imperfections (don’t have unrealistic expectations and don’t strive for perfection, as it’s simply unreal; simply learn to work with what you have and what you are; just show the best version of you and what you have to offer to your audience).
Preparing for a Public Speaking Event
We discussed how to develop public speaking skills and work on keeping them in check. Now, we’d like to help you prepare for an actual public speaking event.
Of course, the tips and pointers we discussed apply to working on your public speaking skills in general, but the ones that follow are supposed to provide assistance before an actual event takes place.
Let’s take a closer look at our suggestions.
Visit the venue.
This isn’t always possible. You could be attending a conference in another country or another city, so it may be impossible for you to visit the venue prior to your speech. Or, you may simply not be allowed into the specific room before the event takes place.
That said, there are other ways to familiarize yourself with the venue. For example, you can check out existing recordings and/or personal videos attendees have made from previous gatherings. Some famous venues also have images on Google, so you can check that out.
Other times, it could even be enough to simply visualize yourself on a stage (or whatever the context is), and imagine you’re delivering your speech. Focus on the surrounding area, make yourself feel as comfortable as you can, and visualize the audience and the way they receive your speech.
This will definitely help plant wonderfully energetic seeds, and it will also help you prepare. Plus, it can make you feel at ease.
Gather experience from previous attendees.
Let’s say you’re supposed to attend an annual conference about leadership and your colleagues had already been there the previous year. Some may have even had their own presentation(s).
In such a case, it’d be great to talk with your peers and ask them about their experience. Here are some questions you can ask:
- Was there anything that bothered them while they were presenting?
- Was there time for a Q&A session?
- On the whole, was the conference organized well?
- What equipment did they end up using for their own presentations? How were things technology-wise?
- How long were their presentations? If they took longer than allowed, were they interrupted?
Of course, before each conference, every attendee receives information regarding presentations, equipment, proper schedule, and so on, but you want to learn the attendees’ personal perspectives and their own experiences. Not only will you get more practical tips and ideas, but you’ll also have talked to someone who was going through the same thing as you are now.
Prepare to improvise.
Let’s face it - no matter how much we’re prepared for our speech, things happen. We may forget to mention something that was extremely important; we could struggle with the equipment; the audience could be non-responsive and totally disinterested in what we have to say, and so on.
And while none of these experiences are pleasant in any way, as we said, they DO happen.
What matters, however, is how we handle such situations. So, the more prepared you are in general, the less likely you are to get confused and/or taken aback in these scenarios. As Stephen Keague put it: “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”.
That said, it’s important to be open to spontaneity and improvisation so that you can quickly adjust to new circumstances (if any of the above-mentioned scenarios happens).
Manage your anxiety (if any).
Speech anxiety is very common, and we already talked about it (if you need to re-read it, make sure you head back to the Glossophobia section at the beginning of the article).
In general, sharing your fears with others who can understand and support you can be invaluable. Make sure you prepare some sort of a technique that helps you calm down and keep your anxiety in check (for instance, you can try breathwork, counting to 10, and/or paying attention to your voice).
Don’t forget about body language.
And while stats are fun and helpful, don’t try to “calculate” how your overall performance will be received. It’s up to you to do, to be, and to give your best - the rest is up to your audience, and how they receive it.
Overall, the point is not to seem closed off or have your arms crossed while speaking. You don’t need to have the best posture in the world, but you should try to pay attention to such details. It makes you seem more welcoming and definitely adds a little bit of warmth to your overall speech.
Find a friendly face in the audience.
Remember - your audience wants you to succeed as much as you want that for yourself. Plus, others will likely need to give a speech, too. And as speech anxiety is such a huge issue for many, you can bet that others will be feeling the same as you are.
Keep the end goal in mind.
Try to remember why you’re there: on that specific stage and in that specific room. Focus on your speech and don’t let yourself get distracted. Of course, sometimes it can be difficult to let go of all the thoughts, worries, and fears that seem to pop up as you’re about to start speaking, but usually, once you begin they tend to mysteriously dissolve.
Examples of Public Speaking in Everyday Life
Public speaking is part of every educational context, whether we realize it or not. And it doesn’t only apply to teachers. It includes students as well.
First off, public speaking applies to teachers and professors across all levels of education. It refers to their delivery of material, and the way they express themselves in front of larger groups (and individuals too).
It goes without saying that teachers are expected to have great public speaking skills - it’s part of their job description. The tone of their voice, the words they use, their body language, as well as the pace of their speech are all important factors.
The same applies to students (especially for oral exams and class presentations/projects, to name a few). Students need to pay attention to the questions they get, how they answer them, the vocabulary they choose, and the overall way they convey their “message” to demonstrate their knowledge.
In fact, the way students express themselves is so important that oftentimes that’s what they end up being assessed for - how they explain the material and talk about it, rather than what they’ve memorized.
That’s why in some cases, a student who wasn’t well prepared would get a higher grade than someone who knows all the material. It’s only because the former knows how to organize their thoughts and express them in a neat manner.
We have to also mention the following: public speaking should be a skill that’s taught at school. So, it shouldn’t only be used as in the examples we gave above - it should be encouraged consciously and actively.
There are many ways to do this. For instance, there could be an actual subject dealing with public speaking, or specific lectures from another course devoted to the skill. Of course, this will also depend on how old the students are. For instance, undergraduate students won’t get the same treatment or the same material as those in middle school. What’s more, the whole act of public speaking won’t be perceived the same by different age groups.
University students may appreciate it more, as they’ll perhaps find it more necessary. However, some simple public speaking exercises and/or materials may very well prove to be useful even for middle school or high school students.
Finally, keep in mind that when you’re preparing your students for public speaking events you aren’t just helping them be better within the educational context - you’re providing them with an essential life skill.
How to approach this?
- Do you tend to engage your audience when you speak? For instance, saying things like “I believe this piece of research is key to understanding the impact of technology - what do you think?”. Also, do you have a Q&A session after your speech? How do you organize it?
- What do you want the audience to memorize from your speech? What should they take away from it?
- Are you comfortable with having “co-presenters” or do you prefer to do things completely on your own?
- What public speaking tips would you give to first-timers?
- Are you able to adjust your speaking style and overall vocabulary to a level suitable for a specific audience? For instance, let’s imagine you’re teaching a foreign language at a private language center, and you have classes with students of different ages and levels. Are you able to adjust your speaking and teaching style accordingly? What are some potential consequences if you don't?
- What is a good speech supposed to look like in academic gatherings?
- How do you feel about BA, MA, and Ph.D. defenses (as specific examples of public speaking within an educational context)? Do you feel they fully illustrate the speaker’s capacity, their public speaking skills, and overall intelligence, or perhaps you find them unsuitable to shed light upon such things (as they’re quite stressful)?
- How would you assess someone’s speaking performance? What criteria would you consider? What aspects would you grade?
- How would you encourage someone before their public speaking event? What advice would you give?
- When engaging in public speaking, what facial expressions and body language do you expect to encounter? Why? Also, do you think people can consciously work on these aspects?
- What do you think about public speaking courses, webinars, and conferences that help people work on improving their speaking skills? Is this something you’d be interested in? Do you think people find these helpful? (If this sounds like something you’d be up for, you may wish to consider taking a look at our online course on public speaking.)
- If you have any technical issues while delivering your speech, do you allow this to affect your overall performance? How do you handle such situations?
As politicians are said to represent their citizens, nation, and country (of course this varies depending on their position and tasks), it’s only logical to expect them to be amazing speakers.
And this isn’t something that comes easy to all of them. In fact, many politicians undergo formal public speaking training. This is especially true for those who are frequently interviewed, and show up on TV a lot.
Of course, some may have an aptitude for speaking, but even then you need to learn a thing or two. Or you may simply wish to upgrade your current public speaking skills.
In general, one of the most important qualities every great leader should possess is the ability to communicate clearly with other people. According to Sunnie Giles,
Leaders who “communicate often and openly” [...] and “create a feeling of succeeding and failing together as a pack” [...] build a strong foundation for connection.
We are a social species — we want to connect and feel a sense of belonging. From an evolutionary perspective, attachment is important because it improves our chances of survival in a world full of predators. Research suggests that a sense of connection could also impact productivity and emotional well-being.
Politicians should have the capacity to convince the masses, persuade citizens, and explain their actions with words. They should be able to trigger different feelings within their audience: from terror and anger to pride and support.
A lot of politicians are said to have charisma and appeal, which certainly helps in their careers. Combine this with solid public speaking skills, and you have an amazing politician.
That said, when it comes to politics, a lot of people are skeptical and have doubts. They don’t trust the system, the party, the specific politician, and so on. This basically means that they’ll often probably have an opinion before they hear what a specific politician has to say. And it goes both ways - they can disagree with a specific politician only because that politician represents the opposing party, and they can agree with a politician that supports the party they’ve voted for, regardless of what they say in their speech.
It doesn’t mean politicians should stop caring about public speeches just because such things occur. On the contrary - it means they should strive to be the best they can be so that they can persuade their listeners with the power of their words.
After all, being a politician means you have a duty to all citizens, regardless of who (dis)agrees with you and your views.
How to approach this?
- What do you think is more important - speech content or speech delivery? Why? Give at least three valid reasons to support your claim.
- How do you deal with stage fright? What has proven to be the most helpful method?
- How can you better prepare for future events? Are there any problems with your current approach?
- How would you address a hostile audience? Why?
- Do you keep notes or a script next to you while you’re delivering a speech? If yes, do you take a look at them frequently, or occasionally?
- Can you “go with your gut” when you speak and sense the moment along with the needs of the audience?
- Do you take people’s feedback into account regarding your speech/body language and posture/facial expressions, etc?
- What do you hate about public speaking? Why?
- What do you find fulfilling in the relationship between you (the speaker) and the others (the audience)?
- How do you practice a speech? Who helps you? How many times do you need to practice it? Do you believe in the saying “practice makes perfect”?
- What are some politicians you admire? What can you learn from their speaking style, expression, and speech delivery? Could you adopt some of their methods?
- How do the venue and the overall stage arrangement affect your performance? How about the size of the audience? Are you intimidated by large crowds?
- Have you ever delivered speeches written by others? Has it been difficult to connect with them? Do you have a different public speaking experience when dealing with those speeches? If yes, how would you explain it? Also, what type of speech do you prefer - one you’ve written on your own or one that’s been written for you?
- Do you think of yourself as a speaker with charisma? How can you tell?
- Do you think your public speaking skills make you a better politician or not? Why? Support your claims with facts and examples (preferably from your own experiences).
Public speaking doesn’t have to apply only to extremely formal situations. In fact, you may be exposed to public speaking on a daily basis even without fully realizing it. What’s more, you may be the speaker, too.
What do we mean by this? Well, there are many events that happen on a daily basis where our public speaking skills are put to use. Let’s take a look at some actual examples.
First of all, attending a job interview is a very common scenario in adulthood. It’s something all of us go through at some point (some of us even multiple times in life). And while you’re assessed for your job skills and professional qualifications, you’re also assessed for the way you present them. Keep in mind that when you’re interviewing, you’re actually trying to make someone hire you.
If you get the job, you’ll probably be asked to do a presentation at some point. It could be either in front of your colleagues, your boss(es), or in front of another company. Employees often attend conferences and seminars (or webinars), where they’re asked to represent their respective companies. This is important because the impression you leave with others is the impression they’ll have of the overall company.
We need to consider wedding toasts, too. If a bride or a groom asks you to make a toast on what seems to be the most important day of their life, it’d be a shame to let them down because of your poor public speaking skills, right?
The same applies to parties and larger gatherings, as these are events that usually “ask for” certain toasts, depending on the occasion.
Some more religious families have the tendency to have frequent prayers and/or customs before eating. Sometimes it may be due to an important holiday (take Thanksgiving as an example), other times it could be a random day, but a prayer is a prayer.
However, these types of public speaking moments are fairly easy, as they usually don’t require any formal preparation. They aren’t done in front of a very large audience either, so they’re not meant to be stressful.
Attending a hearing is another example of public speaking in everyday life. Whether you’re a lawyer supposed to defend your client, or you’re expected to testify in court, one thing is for sure - you’re going to be speaking in front of many people, and each word you say will matter.
That said, this may not be relevant for everyone, as each country has a different law system. For instance, the example we gave may be suitable for the US, but it may not be relevant for another country’s legal system.
Finally, a lot of people working in the media sector are asked to use their public skills on a daily basis. This applies to those speaking on the radio, on TV, in advertising, and so on.
How to approach this?
- Do you have the tendency to say “um”, “uh”, or “and” a lot when you speak?
- Do you always say things that feel right for you, or do you say things that others wish to hear?
- What past experiences do you have regarding public speaking? Have they been positive or negative? What have you learned? Do they affect the manner in which you perceive public speaking now? In what way?
- How can you be more articulate while engaging in public speaking? What steps can you take?
- How does impromptu speaking make you feel?
- Do you think public speaking is an innate ability or can it be learned? What’s your opinion when it comes to skills vs. talents?
- Do public speakers have to be extroverted individuals by default? What’s your take on this?
- Do you think public speakers are more successful in life? That they have better jobs, a better social life, more friends, respect, and so on?
- When and why do you feel compelled to speak?
- Do you have any bad memories regarding public speaking? What happened? Has that experience stuck with you in other similar situations? Looking at it from this perspective, what would you do differently if you had the chance to do it again? In other words:
- If you had a bad public speaking experience, how do you deal with the consequences? Do you want to work on yourself and see what went wrong, or do you completely give up on the idea of speaking in public ever again?
- What kind of physical and emotional response does speaking trigger within you?
- What do you wish your audience to be saying about you afterward? Also, are you interested in getting detailed feedback and/or compliments? But more importantly, are you open to receiving some negative comments, too?
- What motivates people to stand up and speak? What motivates YOU, in particular?
Famous Quotes about Public Speaking
“Eloquence is a skill to work on, and it starts with simply overcoming apprehension and nervousness when speaking to a stranger. If you have been honing your skills and knowledge in different areas, you should be confident when speaking about them. The medium is the message, so the well-put-together man speaking eloquently about his passion or beliefs is a man that will entice others to follow him.”
“To know if someone can speak offensively or politely, don’t give him a poem to recite; don’t give him a song to sing. Just engage him in an argument and you will know it for yourself who he is.”
Even though I don’t much like them, I have to admit that tips can sometimes be useful. Here are a few that have been good to me.
The Three Rules of Three
- When I talk to an audience, I try to make no more than three points. (They can’t remember more than three, and neither can I.) In fact, restricting myself to one big point is even better. But three is the limit.
- I try to explain difficult ideas three different ways. Some people can’t understand something the first couple of ways I say it, but can if I say it another way. This lets them triangulate their way to understanding.
- I try to find a subtle way to make an important point three times. It sticks a little better.”
“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”
“The customer is always right' may have become a standard motto in the world of business, but the idea that 'the audience is always right,' has yet to make much of an impression on the world of presentation, even though for the duration of the presentation at least, the audience is the speaker's only customer.”
“There is a strange sensation often experienced in the presence of an audience. It may proceed from the gaze of the many eyes that turn upon the speaker, especially if he permits himself to steadily return that gaze. Most speakers have been conscious of this in a nameless thrill, a real something, pervading the atmosphere, tangible, evanescent, indescribable. All writers have borne testimony to the power of a speaker's eye in impressing an audience. This influence which we are now considering is the reverse of that picture—the power their eyes may exert upon him, especially before he begins to speak: after the inward fires of oratory are fanned into flame the eyes of the audience lose all terror.”
“It's much easier to be convincing if you care about your topic. Figure out what's important to you about your message and speak from the heart.”
“The maxim, as has been already said, is a general statement, and people love to hear stated in general terms what they already believe in some particular connexion: e.g. if a man happens to have bad neighbors or bad children, he will agree with any one who tells him 'Nothing is more annoying than having neighbors,' or, 'Nothing is more foolish than to be the parent of children.' The orator has therefore to guess the subjects on which his hearers really hold views already, and what those views are, and then must express, as general truths, these same views on these same subjects. This is one advantage of using maxims.”
“Oratory is the highest form of music”
“If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time - a tremendous whack.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are some qualities a good public speaker should have?
As a public speaker, you’ll find that each one has their own personal set of qualities. However, there are certain features that go hand-in-hand with being a good public speaker such as:
- confidence and self-esteem (but not accompanied by an egotistical personality);
- excitement and passion about the topic;
- proper knowledge on the subject;
- ability to form a connection with the audience;
- proper body language;
- not being afraid to take chances and face your fears;
- adequate tone of voice and speech pace (speaking naturally);
- the capacity to engage in storytelling;
- avoiding repetition;
- being open (to suggestions, ideas, positive/negative feedback, and so on);
- being concise and to the point;
- having the ability to trigger the right emotions in the listeners;
- not being afraid to make a mistake (and even make fun of yourself);
- be present (this means not to get engrossed in your own thoughts and the speech, but to be able to read the situation and keep track of the audience’s awareness; for instance, noticing whether the audience pays attention, when someone raises their hand to ask something, and so on);
- always being willing to continue learning and growing (above all as a person, and then as a public speaker).
Finally, remember to be yourself as much as you can. People cherish authenticity.
What are some signs of speech anxiety and how to handle it?
Some very common signs of speech anxiety are:
- rapid breathing;
- dry mouth;
- squeaky voice;
- butterflies in the stomach, and so on.
There are various ways to handle speech anxiety. The most important thing is to, first of all, identify the source of your anxiety. What’s causing this fear? Is it because you’re unprepared, due to the size of the audience, or maybe something else entirely?
Write down the reasons and contemplate on them. While this may not fully address the causes or “fix” them, it will give you a sense of understanding, allowing you to think with greater clarity.
It’s always a good idea to prepare and rehearse your speech at least several times. This will undoubtedly increase your self-esteem and make you less anxious.
Also, work on deconstructing your beliefs about public speaking. The mind is powerful - it will believe what you tell it to believe. So, start telling it that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Engaging in positive self-talk can bring about positive results, too. Practicing mindfulness and repeating affirmations can be helpful! There are many materials out there that can help you, as there are many people struggling with the same thing as you are.
Finally, some people end up taking medication such as beta-blockers. That said, if this is something you’d like to try it’s always good to first check in with your doctor and see what’s going to be most suitable for you.
A few last words…
In his book The Art of Public Speaking, Dale Breckenridge Carnegie talks about how to become a confident and highly effective public speaker. His view is that to attain it, you “simply have to do it”. Here’s what he wrote:
Students of public speaking continually ask, "How can I overcome self-consciousness and the fear that paralyzes me before an audience?" Did you ever notice in looking from a train window that some horses feed near the track and never even pause to look up at the thundering cars, while just ahead at the next railroad crossing a farmer's wife will be nervously trying to quiet her scared horse as the train goes by? How would you cure a horse that is afraid of cars—graze him in a back-woods lot where he would never see steam-engines or automobiles, or drive or pasture him where he would frequently see the machines? Apply horse-sense to ridding yourself of self-consciousness and fear: face an audience as frequently as you can, and you will soon stop shying. You can never attain freedom from stage-fright by reading a treatise. A book may give you excellent suggestions on how best to conduct yourself in the water, but sooner or later you must get wet, perhaps even strangle and be "half scared to death." There are a great many "wetless" bathing suits worn at the seashore, but no one ever learns to swim in them. To plunge is the only way.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Whether you’re keen on reading books about public speaking because you have stage fright or simply because you want to upgrade your skills, one thing is for sure - you’ll feel better and more confident about your public speaking performance than before.
Without further ado, here are our book suggestions:
- Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World's Top Minds, by Carmine Gallo
- Speak With No Fear: Go from a nervous, nauseated, and sweaty speaker to an excited, energized, and passionate presenter, by Mike Acker
- Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life, by Michael Port
- Do You Talk Funny?: 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker, by David Nihill
- An Essential Guide to Public Speaking: Serving Your Audience with Faith, Skill, and Virtue, by Quentin Schultze
- Set Your Voice Free: How To Get The Singing Or Speaking Voice You Want, by Roger Love and Donna Frazier
- How to Be Brilliant at Public Speaking: Any Audience. Any Situation., by Sarah Lloyd Hughes
- On Speaking Well: How to Give a Speech With Style, Substance, and Clarity, by Peggy Noonan
- Public Speaking Magic: Success and Confidence in the First 20 Seconds, by Mark Davis and Tom Schreiter
- The Storyteller's Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don't, by Carmine Gallo
- Speak Up For Your Business: Presentation Secrets for Entrepreneurs Ready to Tell, Sell, and Compel, by Michelle A. Mazur
- Your Guide to Public Speaking: Build Your Confidence, Find Your Voice, and Inspire Your Audience, by Amanda Hennessey
Overall, public speaking is a very rewarding activity, although it can be challenging at times. As George Jessel put it: “The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public”.
To prevent this from happening, we want to help you learn about all matters public speaking, which is why we prepared a detailed course on public speaking.
In this article, we laid out all the basics. We offer much more in our course, including guidance on:
- communication traps;
- how to structure your speech;
- being authentic;
- how to explain a difficult concept and how to build a great story;
- the 30-20-10 rule;
- how to practice your speech, posture, and hand gestures.
Ready to give the best speech of your life?
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