What is Public Speaking? [Definition, Importance, Tips Etc!]


If you are an ambitious professional, you will have to engage in some form of public speaking at some point in time in your life! The truth is, it is better to start with public speaking sooner rather than later! However, to better understand the subject, we must start with the definition of public speaking.

Public speaking is the art of conveying a message verbally to an audience of more than one individual. An average public speaker addresses a crowd of over 50 people, while some keynote presenters can expect an audience of a few thousand. With digital public speaking, this can be scaled infinitely.

In this post, you will learn everything you need to know to get started with public speaking, including why it is essential in the modern world, what skills make up the art form, and what you can expect when trying to turn your public speaking skills into a revenue-generating business or career.

Why is Public Speaking Important?

With over 77% of people having some degree of public speaking anxiety, according to Very Well Mind, and some positioning it as a greater fear than that of death itself, you might wonder why one needs to conquer such fear? What could be so essential about public speaking, after all?

Public speaking is critical because it allows you to connect with a group of people and persuade them to see things your way. It is the highest form of scaled influence and has existed as a change-making phenomenon in politics, society, and culture for over 2000 years.

A man speaking in front of a large public gathering (Image Credit)

Compare this to any social media platform, CEO-position duration, and professorship, and you’ll see that public speaking has been the most persistent form of influencing across time. In other words, it is transferrable and timeless.

You don’t have to worry about it going out of fashion because it has outlasted the fashion industry itself. Every other position of power relies on some degree of public speaking skills, even if an individual is not actively delivering keynotes.

What Are Public Speaking Skills?

At this point, you might be thinking, “wait, how is public speaking different from public speaking skills?” And I understand that because people often assume public speaking itself is a skill. Public Speaking is a performance art that relies on multiple skills to deliver a cohesive presentation of a singular skill.

Public speaking skills are the pillars that hold up an excellent presentation and include argument construction, audience engagement, stage presence management, timely delivery, and appropriate pacing. You can also improve your public speaking by using humor, rhetorical questions, and analogies.

Argument Construction

The way you position an argument matters more than the argument itself. That’s why in most rhetorical classes, you’re made to pick the “for” or “against” side at random, so you get good at making arguments regardless of the legitimacy of the position.

Usually, an argument follows the “problem,” “potential solution,” “reasons the said solution is the best” model though some constructions include countering general skepticism regarding a proposed solution.

Audience Engagement

This skill will help you lengthen your talk without having to script every second, but that’s not its primary goal. Audience engagement shouldn’t be used as fluff but as a means to retain your public’s attention, especially if a topic is particularly dry or the talk is too long.

Stage Presence Management

This is the aspect of audience engagement that has more to do with yourself. For instance, if you ask a question, you’re getting your audience’s attention by engaging with them.

However, if you strike a particular pose, make an exaggerated gesture, or simply carry yourself in a way that draws attention, you’re managing your stage presence (and increasing your audience’s involvement).

Timely Delivery

Timing is critical in public speaking because, given the fact that speechwriters exist, one can get away without constructing an argument or even writing the words to their talk. However, you cannot get away with bad delivery because if you don’t hold your audience’s attention, you’re only speaking to yourself.

Appropriate Pacing

Pacing your talk is essential because you cannot dump data on your audience without producing a cognitive overload. That’s why you must balance information with rhetoric and pace your presentation to bring your audience along with you.

Importance of Public Speaking Skills for Students

Students giving a group presentation
Students giving a group presentation (Image Credit)

Whether you’re a student thinking of joining a public speaking club or a debating society, or a teacher looking to introduce your students to public speaking, knowing that it is an extracurricular art form that brings the greatest number of long-term benefits to students can be quite comforting.

The importance of public speaking for students lies in its cognitive benefits and social significance. Students who learn public speaking are more confident, can communicate their ideas better, and use speaking as a tool to polish their thoughts. This sets them up for success in public-facing roles.

More importantly, these benefits go hand-in-hand with long-term career success and social satisfaction because, unlike academic skills, public speaking expertise remains beneficial even after students say goodbye to their respective universities.

Benefits of Public Speaking

As mentioned above, the benefits of public speaking often outlast the student life and remain relevant to personal success. Whether you choose a corporate job or want to be a full-time speaker, you will be able to take the skills you build as a speaker and apply them to your life.

Benefits of public speaking include but aren’t limited to higher self-confidence, clarity of thought, personal satisfaction with one’s ability to communicate, a larger network, some degree of organic celebrity status, and higher levels of charisma.

Higher Self-Confidence

Self-confidence, as essential as it is, is a tricky subject because it relies entirely on one’s self-image. And if you don’t view yourself as confident, you aren’t confident.

The best way to improve your confidence is to observe yourself being confident: i.e., get into an activity that requires confidence. Given that oratory is one of the earliest art forms developed by humans, we can safely assume that it is also the one that has more inherent prestige involved.

Clarity of Thought

Public speaking forces one to learn new words and improves how one structures an argument. Since speaking also allows us to think and formulate thoughts into full-fledged concepts, a public speaker is better able to think with clarity.

Improved Ability to Communicate

Building on clarity of thought, one’s ability to communicate is enhanced once they have thought through their positions and arguments. Public speaking helps you communicate better in both the content and delivery of your thoughts.

Better Network

Humans are social animals, and networking is intrinsic to our success. They say that most of life’s significant events aren’t “what” events (as in “what happened?”) but “who” events (as in “who did you connect with?” or “who connected with you?”). Public speaking affords you the confidence to multiply the odds of better “who” events.

Natural Celebrity

We admire those who can do what we can’t. And since public speaking is such a valuable artform regarding which over 77% of people have trouble, it is pretty straightforward to conclude that the one who can pull this off will have higher social status among any group.

Increased Charisma

Finally, building on the previous perk of better social status, with Olivia Fox-Cabane’s definition of charisma as power and empathy, one can see how an organic celebrity status among one’s friend circle can also lead to improved charisma.

That said, not every public speaker is charismatic all the time. And to make sure you make the most of your ability to be charismatic as a public speaker, check out Fox Cabane’s book.

Types of Public Speaking

Image Credit – Product School

In the artform’s infancy, public speaking was public speaking. There was nothing else but an individual speaking to fellow city residents in a forum, trying to persuade them to get behind a certain reform or rollback one. Now public speaking has branched into various types.

Types of public speaking are divided across two dimensions: medium and mission.

Digital public speaking, on-stage speeches, and pre-recorded talks are three types differentiated by category. Keynote address, seminar, and debate are three forms differentiated by end-result.

  1. Division by medium allows us to see the type of speech by the method of delivery. You can conduct keynote, seminar, and debate in the digital type, but a live discussion is very likely off the table when you’re uploading a pre-recorded talk.
  2. Division by end-result allows us to see how public speaking can differ depending on the content format regardless of delivery. You can give a keynote address on stage or even have it pre-recorded. As long as you get the key point across, you’re doing your job.

Apple’s keynotes are consumed far more often online than they are in-person. So, being clear on the end result allows hybridization across different formats, especially with technology. Still, you should optimize the content and delivery of your talk for the medium you set as the primary one and let the others be optional.

In other words, if you’re conducting a seminar and interaction matters, do not sacrifice live interaction trying to force your seminar into a pre-recorded format.

However, once the seminar has been delivered digitally, or in person, the video can be uploaded as pre-recorded for those who want to follow along or are simply curious about your seminar’s content and might sign up for the next one.

To understand which format or type to set as your primary one, you must know the pros and cons of each kind of public speaking.

Digital public speaking emerged alongside the telethon selling format on cable TV. While the first telethons weren’t entirely digital, the format’s inception lies firmly in this period because TV’s shift to streaming brought about the first boom in digital public speaking.

In 2020, there was yet another shift as Corporate America got thoroughly familiarized with Zoom, a digital conferencing tool.

And once people knew how to use it to participate in meetings, listening to live talks was only a few clicks away. Zoom launched webinar mode, making it even more convenient to start giving talks to a large digital audience.

Still, there are multiple platforms through which you can engage in digital public speaking, including Facebook Live, Youtube Streaming, and even Twitch.

Pros of Digital Public Speaking

  • Low overhead – You don’t need to book a conference center; people don’t have to pay to fly.
     
  • Easy for higher frequency – You can easily deliver more talks in a shorter period, thanks to the lack of traveling involved.

Cons of Digital Public Speaking

  • Harder to hold the audience’s attention – Task-switching is the key obstacle in digital public speaking, making it harder to deliver keynotes. However, interactive digital workshops really thrive in this environment.

Pros of on-Stage Public Speaking

  • Better translates to other arenas – If you learn to speak from the stage, you can speak to smaller groups, give talks digitally, and hold a confident conversation. This doesn’t always work the other way: Zoom maestros aren’t as equipped to give a talk from a stage.
     
  • Instant authority – The Lab Coat Effect is one where we automatically infer authority if someone resembles a figure of authority. That’s why stage presentations are important for big ideas. The audience is more receptive when they see you on a stage regardless of your credentials.

Cons of on-Stage Public Speaking

  • Limits the ability to interact – Since the format allows monologuing, it can be easy to get carried away giving your talk without bringing the audience along. In some instances, it can be downright tough to engage more personally with people because the crowd is too big.
     
  • Hard to master – While it can ultimately be an advantage, you must recognize it for the drawback that is initially, as getting on stage is difficult for most people with no prior experience. Even seasoned public speakers admit to being nervous before each talk.

Pros of Pre-Recorded Talks

  • Room for error – Since pre-recorded talks are not live, you can get away with making errors, especially if you’re adept at editing. You also don’t have to be in front of a crowd and can talk to the camera as if it were your friend. This allows even the uninitiated to get involved with public speaking without taking extensive training.
     
  • Simultaneous delivery for multiple talks – While it isn’t important for most people to give multiple tasks at once, it is possible to do so with a set of pre-recorded talks.
    If you’re a busy executive or a business owner, you can be more productive. If you’re trying to elevate your career as a professional speaker, a few pre-recorded webinars delivered to potential clients for free can help get your foot in the door without too much effort.

Cons of Pre-Recorded Talks

  • Can become a crutch – The convenience of these talks is also their greatest drawback. You cannot give pre-recorded talks exclusively because that severely limits your public speaking muscles. Using them in conjunction with other forms of speaking is the ideal balance for skill maintenance and productivity boosting.
     
  • Lower engagement – Since you are not able to interact live, you’re limited to predetermined engagement tools like asking people to imagine a scenario or posing rhetorical questions.
    You can pop in live at the end of your talk to take live questions. This hybridization or pre-recorded public speaking with digital public speaking is best for consultants and thought leaders.

Examples of Public Speaking

To be a great public speaker, you must consume great relevant content. That’s why you need to know what type of audio content constitutes public speaking. The following section covers examples of public speaking:

Example of Public SpeakingType of Speaking
In-person KeynoteOn-stage public speaking
Zoom WebinarDigital public speaking
Solo podcastRecorded talk
Google Talks on YoutubeOn-stage public speaking + Recorded talk
Graduation address / Commencement AddressOn stage public speaking
Model UN DebateOn-stage public speaking + Recorded talk
Youtuber Apology/Explanation videoRecorded talk / Digital Public speaking
State of the Union AddressOn-stage public speaking + Digital public speaking + Recorded talk
Facebook live stream webinarDigital public speaking + Recorded talk

Basic Elements of Public Speaking

Now that you know what kind of content you should consume as a budding public speaker let’s look at the key elements to watch out for. Most well-constructed speeches will include the following:

  • Signposting – The beginning portion introduces not just the topic but sections of the talk, including what will be addressed later on. Look at the third paragraph of this post to get an idea of what signposting is.
     
  • Main argument – This rests in the body of the speech, where the speaker makes the main point. You should never make a point without supporting it with logic, fact, and even a compelling narrative.
     
  • Supporting the argument – As mentioned above, your argument needs support. Use analogies, metaphors, and of course, data to back up the point you’re making.
     
  • Recap – The conclusion is the final part where your talk’s recap sits. Here, you tell your audience briefly the main points you have made without taking them down the details lane.

Tips to Become a Better Public Speaker

To become a better public speaker, you must use the observe, internalize, and practice formula. Here’s how you should go about it:

  1. Observe – Look at the types and examples of public speaking listed in this article and consume different talks that fall into all sorts of categories. Don’t rely too much on one speaker, or you may inadvertently become a knock-off.
     
  2. Internalize – By consuming content without judgment, you’ll start to internalize what you find compelling. You must let go of conscious deconstruction tendencies and simply consume content until it is second nature to you.
     
  3. Practice – Finally, the toughest and the most critical part of becoming a public speaker is simply practicing more often. Find opportunities to give talks.

    If you don’t find on-stage openings, simply give recorded talks or even stream your keynote. With enough practice, you’ll find your talks rising to the level of great public speakers whose content you so thoroughly consumed.

Credit to cookie_studio (on Freepik) for the featured image of this article (further edited)

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