Public speaking

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For the 2010 HBO documentary, see Public Speaking (film).
The Roman orator Cicero speaks to the Roman Senate.
Cicero Denounces Catiline (1889), fresco by Cesare Maccari

Public speaking (also called oratory or oration) is the process or act of performing a speech to a live audience. This type of speech is deliberately structured with three general purposes: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. Public speaking is commonly understood as formal, face-to-face talking of a single person to a group of listeners.[1] It is closely related to "presenting," although the latter is more often associated with commercial activity.


There are five basic elements of public speaking that are described in Lasswell's model of communication. In short, the speaker should be answering the question "who says what in which channel to whom with what effect?"

Public speaking can serve the purpose of transmitting information, telling a story, motivating people to act or some combination of those. Public speaking can also take the form of a discourse community, where the audience and speaker are working to achieve a certain goal.

Interpersonal communication and public speaking have several common components, including motivational speech, leadership, personal development, business, customer service, large group communication, and mass communication. Public speaking can be a powerful tool to use to persuade, influence, and inform the audience. It also utilizes ethos, or character.[2]

Public speaking for business and commercial events is often done by professionals. These speakers can be contracted independently, through representation by a speakers bureau, or by other means. It is believed that 70 percent of all jobs involve some form of public speaking.[3]


The Orator, c. 100 BC, an Etrusco-Roman bronze sculpture depicting Aule Metele (Latin: Aulus Metellus), an Etruscan man wearing a Roman toga while engaged in rhetoric; the statue features an inscription in the Etruscan alphabet

Although there is early evidence of training in public speech in ancient Egypt,[4] the first known work[5] on oratory, written over 2,000 years ago, came from ancient Greece. This work elaborated on principles drawn from the practices and experiences of orators in the city-states. In classical Greece and Rome, the main component of composition and speech delivery was rhetoric, which was an important skill in both public and private life. Aristotle and Quintilian taught oratory using definitive rules and models, leading to emphasis on oratory as a part of a liberal arts education during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

The art of public speaking, developed by the ancient Greeks,[6] is known from works classical antiquity. Greek orators spoke on their own behalf rather than on behalf of representatives of either a client or a constituency. So, any citizen who wished to succeed in court, in politics, or in social life had to learn techniques of public speaking. These skills were first taught by a group of self-styled "sophists" who were known to help their students through instruction towards excellence. Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates all developed theories of public speaking in opposition to the Sophists, and their ideas took on institutional form through the development of permanent schools where public speaking was taught. Though Greece eventually lost political sovereignty, the Greek culture of training in public speaking was adopted virtually wholesale by the Romans.

With the political rise of the Roman Republic, Roman orators copied and modified Greek techniques of public speaking. Instruction in rhetoric developed into a full curriculum, including instruction in grammar (study of the poets), preliminary exercises (progymnasmata), and preparation of public speeches (declamation) in both forensic and deliberative genres. The Latin style was heavily influenced by Cicero, and involved a strong emphasis on a broad education in all areas of humanistic study in the liberal arts (including philosophy). Other areas of study included the use of wit and humor, the appeal to the listener's emotions, and the use of digressions. Oratory in the Roman empire, though less central to political life than in the days of the Republic, remained important in law and became an important form of entertainment with famous orators gaining great wealth and prestige for their skills.

The Latin style was the primary form of oration in the world until the beginning of the 20th century. After World War II, there began a gradual deprecation of the Latin style of oration. With the rise of the scientific method and the emphasis on a "plain" style of speaking and writing, even formal oratory has become less polished and ornate than in the Classical period.

Some of the best-known examples of public speaking have been studied years after their delivery. Among these are Pericles' funeral oration in 427 B.C.E. over those that died during Peloponnesian War; Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in 1863; Sojourner Truth's identification of racial issues in "Ain't I a Woman?;” and Mahatma Gandhi's message of nonviolent resistance in India, which in turn inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the Washington Monument in 1963.[7] Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Winston Churchill are notable examples of effective orators who used speech to make a significant impact on society.

Methods and techniques[edit]

Jason Lewis of Expedition 360 public speaking on sustainability issues at the Royal Geographical Society in London, UK.
Bill Gates speaking at DFID

The objectives of a public speaker's presentation can range from telling a simple story to transmitting important information. Professional public speakers often engage in ongoing training and education to refine their craft and improve their skill. This may include seeking guidance from others to improve those skills—such as learning better storytelling techniques or learning how to effectively use humor as a communication tool. They also engage in continuous research in their topic area of focus. [citation needed]

While there are often resources on how to be an effective public speaker readily available for those interested (through internet or library research), professionals in public speaking are not hesitant to share tips and challenges they come across. People tend to listen to their strategies and try to imitate their techniques, however, this is not effective as everyone is different and handles situations differently. According to professionals, great public speaking comes from the heart, by persuading the audience into believing what one is saying.[1]

A speaker's checklist is given in TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking.[8] In brief, some of the tips included mention: how to engage the audience, how to prepare for a long speech, important things to remember when speaking, things to avoid, and the importance of a backup plan.

One very important aspect of giving a speech is credibility or ethos. This is necessary to establish with an audience so that it is evident that one is reliable and informed when it comes to the subject at hand. A good way to establish credibility is with a credibility statement. This will show listeners that the speaker is someone worth listening to about the given topic. This statement can include evidence of extensive research and study, passion for a particular issue, or personal experience. There are three important characteristics that will help one establish good ethos: good sense, good will, and good moral character. Establishing these characteristics with the audience will show that the speaker is presenting information that is trustworthy and said with good intentions.[9]

Public speaking training centers promote the idea of adapting certain life-stances for becoming a growing orator. These life-stances are called the 12 "E" life stances.[citation needed]

12E Explanation
Examine Examine how is one's life process. (E.g. SWOT analysis, Johari window)
Exchange Let go of small conveniences as an exchange for greater good.
Exercise Exercise skills and widen the depth of information to address areas.
Express Express one's belief in their dream through integrity in oration.
Expect Expect oppositions and failure.
Expose Expose one's way of working (ability in oration) and use opportunities for it.
Extract Extract and personalize every positive principles and knowledge.
Exclude Exclude negative thinkers that opposes orator's ambition.
Exceed Exceed normal exceptions through review and restructuring.
Exhibit Exhibit confidence in your objective and areas of oration.
Explore Explore all possibilities and different fields of oration.
Extend Extend a helping hand to those in the field of oration.

Glossophobia, commonly known as “stage fright,” is the fear of public speaking. This state of response by many beginners can be confused with normal nerves, whereas glossophobia is actually an anxiety with a genuine phobia. Clubs such as National Speakers Association, Rostrum, Toastmasters International, Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC), Speaking Circles, and POWERtalk International provide forums for members to develop public speaking skills through practice and assigned exercises in order to tackle commonly faced obstacles, like glossophobia, effectively.[10]


The technology and the methods of this form of communication have traditionally been through oratory structure and rely on an audience. However, as societies and cultures evolve over time, the tools used in public speaking have undergone some modifications. New advances in technology have allowed for more sophisticated communication for speakers and public orators. Rostrums hold papers for speakers. For large assemblies, the speaker can speak with the aid of a public address system or microphone and loudspeaker. Public speakers may also use audience response systems. Today, the technological and media sources that assist the public-speaking atmosphere include both video-conferencing and telecommunications. Videoconferencing is one of the more recent technologies that is revolutionizing the way public speakers communicate to the masses. David M. Fetterman of Stanford University wrote in his 1997 article Videoconferencing over the Internet: "Videoconferencing technology allows geographically disparate parties to hear and see each other usually through satellite or telephone communication systems." This technology is helpful for large conference meetings and face-to-face communication contexts and is becoming more widespread across the world.[11] The use of head-mounted displays such as Google Cardboard, a virtual reality platform in which users immerse in a variety of realistic environments and can train accordingly, is a new resource used in public speaking.[12]

National and organizations[edit]


The National Communication Association (NCA) exists to assist professional communicators – both marketplace and academic. At the annual convention, many presentations address concerns central to effective public speaking.

The National Speakers Association (NSA) is a professional speakers’ organization that supports the pursuit of public speaking as a business.[13] The organization's website says NSA provides "resources and education designed to advance the skills, integrity, and values of its members and the speaking profession".[13]

Toastmasters International, Rostrum Australia, Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) and POWERtalk International are non-profit educational organizations that operate clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. Through their member clubs, organizations like these help people learn the arts of speaking, listening, and thinking.

The Sikh Youth Alliance of North America organized the annual Sikh Youth Symposium, a public speaking competition for Sikh youth to foster the rise of the next generation of Sikh leaders.


The National Forensic Association (NFA), American Forensics Association (AFA), and Phi Rho Pi are three national organizations in the United States that sponsor competitive public speaking at the undergraduate level. Events in the three organizations fall into four categories: public address, limited preparation, interpretation, and debate. The public address events include informative speaking, persuasive speaking, rhetorical criticism (also known at communication analysis), and after-dinner speaking. The limited preparation events include impromptu speaking and extemporaneous speaking whereas the interpretation events include more creative writing, such as poetry, prose, dramatic and dramatic duo interpretation (in which at least one dramatic piece is presented by two speakers working together), and programmed oral interpretation (in which speakers use material from multiple genres with a common theme). Lastly, the debate events include Lincoln-Douglas debate, policy debate, and parliamentary debate. The International Forensics Association (IFA) is an American body whose competitors hail from colleges and universities within the United States.

The use of public speaking in the form of oral presentations is common in higher education,[14] and it is increasingly recognized as a means of assessment.[15]

High school[edit]

The National Forensic League (NFL) is an organization with a similar structure and purpose to the NFA and AFA but serves as the national organization within the United States for competitors in high school. For public address, the NFL sponsors Original Oratory and Expository Extemporaneous speaking, which is split into two events: the International (Foreign) Extemp, and the United States (Domestic) Extemp, and Extemp Commentary is offered at the national tournament as a supplemental event, while impromptu speaking and storytelling are offered limited preparation consolatory events. In addition to the interpretation events offered by NFA and AFA, the NFL also sponsors humorous interpretation. The debate formats sponsored by the NFL include policy debate (cross-examination), Lincoln-Douglas debate, public forum debate, and student congress.

The National Catholic Forensics League (NCFL) is an organization with a similar structure and purpose as the NFL. However, it is a national competition between Catholic high schools in the United States. In recent years, the NCFL has allowed public high schools to also complete. Stoa, NCFCA, and a number of other organizations serve the growing homeschool forensics community.

Several states also have state and local organizations generally unaffiliated with the two national leagues. These organizations frequently offer additional events which are unavailable within either the NFL or NCFL.

Rostrum Australia’s Student Development Program for Secondary School Students contributes to the welfare and personal growth of Australian Youth through the conduct of the annual Rostrum Voice of Youth Student Development Program and Speaking Competition. Rostrum has organized this competition since 1975. Rostrum Voice of Youth is open to all high school students. It involves a prepared speech and an impromptu speech.

There is a continued stress being placed on both public and private educational institutions to incorporate more public speaking courses into their curriculum. This emphasizes the importance of making a sound argument at a young age. Studies have been conducted that suggest that high-school students may not be receiving effective instruction in public speaking, which would benefit them academically, personally, and professionally.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "General Purposes of Speaking". Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  2. ^ Zakahi, Walter (1988). "Communication Education". West Virginia: Speech Communication Press.
  3. ^ Schreiber, Lisa. Introduction to Public Speaking.
  4. ^ Womack, Morris M.; Bernstein, Elinor (1990). Speech for foreign students. C.C. Thomas. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-398-05699-5. Retrieved 2011-12-08. Some of the earliest written records of training in public speaking may be traced to ancient Egypt.
  5. ^ Murphy, James.J. "Demosthenes - greatest Greek orator". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  6. ^ "origins of public speaking" (PDF). publicspeakingproject.
  7. ^ 1. German, Kathleen M. (2010). Principles of Public Speaking. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-205-65396-6.
  8. ^ Anderson, Chris (3 May 2016). "TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking". Headline – via Google Books.
  9. ^ "Writing@CSU". Retrieved 2016-12-13. 
  10. ^ "Glossophobia. Do you suffer from glossophobia or fear public speaking? |". Retrieved 2016-12-13. 
  11. ^ 1. "Public speaking with virtual reality headset". VirtualSpeech.
  12. ^ 1. "Podium Dreams". Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  13. ^ "National Speakers Association (NSA)". Retrieved 23 April 2015.
  14. ^ 1. D. G. Mallet (2007). "Authentic Assessment for Advanced Undergraduate Students". p. 14. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  15. ^ Falchikov, N. (2015). Improving Assessment through Student Involvement. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-30821-6.
  16. ^ 1. Kahl, David (2014). "High School Public Speaking Curriculum: Assessment Through Student Voice". Qualitative Research Reports in Communication: 51–58.

External links[edit]