Learning How to Speak Publicly



Learning How to Speak Publicly

There are a variety of traditional and nontraditional avenues available for you to learn about public speaking.

Learning Objectives

Find ways to improve your public speaking skills.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • You can learn about public speaking through organized learning opportunities, such as classes and organizations like Toastmasters International.
  • If you prefer to learn at your own pace, you can read books about public speaking. Many are available at little or no cost.
  • If you prefer one-on-one guided learning, consider hiring a public speaking coach.
  • For an even more nontraditional approach, the Internet is rife with free materials, guides and videos to help you learn more about speaking in public.

Key Terms

  • Toastmasters International: Toastmasters International (TI) is a nonprofit educational organization with clubs worldwide. They help members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. Through its thousands of member clubs, TI offers a program of communication and leadership projects designed to help people learn the arts of speaking, listening, and thinking.

When you see politicians and other speakers addressing a crowd with ease and eloquence, it seems as though they were born to speak in front of people. The truth is, public speaking is an art learned over time, and with practice, there are many ways to learn it.

A picture of adventurer Jason Lewis speaking publicly at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

Public Speaking: Adventurer Jason Lewis speaking publicly at the Royal Geographical Society in London

If you’re using this online textbook to support material you’re learning in a class, you’re already engaged in one of the basic ways of learning to speak in public. Classroom learning is one of the most common ways for students to learn about communications and public speaking. With guidance from a dedicated teacher, along with accompanying texts, supporting materials, and in-class practice, your basic public speaking course will prepare you to make your first big speech.

Take a Class

If you’re not taking a class, you might find structured learning opportunities through clubs and nonprofit organizations such as Toastmasters International. Toastmasters focuses on the art of public speaking, communication, and leadership skills. They offer a variety of programs, competitions, and conferences to help people like you become better public speakers.

Hit the Books

If you don’t have time for a class and would like to learn more about public speaking at your own pace, consider visiting your local library to find print or digital books on public speaking. Many are tailored to specific types of public speaking (such as political or business) and are often available at little or no cost.

Learning Outside the Box

If reading a book or attending a class still seems too formal, there are plenty of other ways to learn about speaking in public. You might benefit most from personalized, one-on-one attention and directed learning. In this case, consider hiring a public-speaking coach. These individuals are often certified to give personal training and attention to individual clients. Conduct research to learn about their experience and training, and ask to speak with some of their other clients. You can also “hire” a virtual coach by looking for public speaking skill-training videos online, using sites such as YouTube or eHow. Videos about public speaking can give you all the benefits of personalized coaching but from the comfort of your own living room. When looking for videos on public speaking, try to learn what you can about the people producing these videos: What experience and credentials do they have? Are they created by a single person, or the work of a professional company or educational institution?

The benefit of all these ways of learning about public speaking is they all complement one another. If you’re feeling deficient in one skill set after using a certain learning method, turn to another method to bolster your knowledge. Keep in mind, practice is the best way to improve your public speaking ability. Take every opportunity you can to speak in front of an audience to boost your confidence, as well as your skill.

Regardless of the method you choose to learn about public speaking, go in with an open mind and an eagerness to learn. This will allow you to get the most from your curriculum, no matter how it’s constructed or delivered.

Best Practices in Public Speaking

Your public speaking can be improved through various practices both before and during the speech.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the high-level best practices for giving a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Construct a well-organized speech with an engaging
    topic and a clear theme in order to hold your audience ‘s attention.
  • Build confidence beforehand through rehearsal, and
    use techniques such as meditation to reduce anxiety.
  • When delivering the speech, keep in mind how your
    vocal delivery and visual appearance can enhance your message.
  • Consider the background of the audience before the
    speech, and the reactions of the audience during the speech.

Key Terms

  • audience: One or more people within hearing range of some message; for example, a group of people listening to a performance, speech etc.; the crowd attending a stage performance.
  • topic: Subject; theme; a category or general area of interest

Writing the Speech

Good public speaking begins with the content of the speech itself. The first thing you should consider is the topic, or subject, of the speech. Choosing a topic that is relevant to your audience’s interests will help you keep them engaged. Once a topic is chosen, narrowing down the focus of the topic will allow you to cover more detailed information, and your audience should find the speech easier to follow as a result. When writing the speech, keep the purpose of your words in mind. Do you want to inform your audience of something, or do you want to persuade them to your side of an argument? Creating a well-organized speech that introduces a topic, emphasizes a few main points, and leads to a conclusion that sums up a central thesis, will make your job easier when it comes time to speak.

Preparing Beforehand

Sometimes the idea of speaking publicly can be overwhelming. Practicing your speech and mentally preparing yourself beforehand can lessen anxiety and build confidence for the moment you’re in front of a crowd. Rehearsing the speech out loud after writing it can assist you in nailing down good timing and refining your intonation. This will also help you memorize what you’ve written, thereby allowing you more freedom with your delivery. If you feel anxious at the thought of public speaking, trying relaxation exercises such as deep breathing or even meditation may help you clear out negative thoughts. Envisioning the speech going well can also lead you to a feeling of empowerment. Whatever strategy you choose, planning days or even weeks in advance will make the experience of public speaking more manageable.

Delivering the Speech

Even if you’re confident in the quality of your speech beforehand, the actual process of speaking in front of an audience provides many opportunities to enhance your message. As the focus of attention, you have the ability to use both vocal and visual elements to your advantage. Effective vocal delivery involves changing elements such as pitch, volume, and speaking rate in order to emphasize parts of your speech that are integral to its theme. In terms of visual elements, maintaining eye contact and keeping an open posture can help you build a relationship with the audience. On the other hand, inappropriate dress and unnecessary gestures can distract your audience.

A picture of an audience in Tel Aviv, Israel waiting to see the Batsheva Dance Company.

Audience: Public speakers should keep their audience in mind when preparing and delivering a speech.

Thinking of the Audience

The audience is the target of your speech, and effectively communicating your theme to them is the goal of good public speaking. As such, you should always keep the audience in mind both before and during your time on stage. Knowing details about your audience in advance, such as age, religion, and educational background, can help you tailor your message to make it more relevant to them. While talking, pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal feedback of crowd members to determine if they are engaged or distracted. If you sense they are distracted, changing the pace of the speech with an inquiry or story can reengage them.