what is public speaking?

What is public speaking?

Public speaking is the act of communicating to a group of people through speech, with the intent of informing, entertaining or influencing.

What is public speaking and what do you need to know about it?

It is basically a presentation in front of an audience, just like in elementary school. While it may cover various topics and take form in the most creative or dull manner, it is an outmost interactive form of communication.

Several elements come together in perfect harmony – or chaos – to present your ideas. Speech, body language, tonality, content, predisposition with the audience and many more, come together to bring your point forward – as YOU stand in the spotlight.

Juggling all these elements while being under the social pressure of the audience’s watchful eyes is definitely an art form.


Public speaking is relevant to all of us

Public speaking is something all and every one of us must experience and use in our lives. Whether you are a student presenting your essay, a lawyer convincing a jury, a leader getting his employees on board with the latest agenda or an auctionarius auctioning away the latest stolen pirate treasure known to man.

It is worth mentioning that public speaking is usually a bit formal and purposeful, as opposed to just chit-chatting loudly with a group of people.

man in restaurant is holding a speech in front of a group of people


Understanding the elements of public speaking

While there are many theories behind public speaking and communication itself, they are, rather ironically, poorly communicated to the general public.

To make it simple and practical for you, I would boil it down to some key elements:

  • You, the sender. And your credibility
  • Your message.
  • Your delivery
  • Your audience
  • Effect of your speech


You, the sender:

How you are perceived before you even talk plays a big deal in public speaking. If you are a high school student in rapper clothes presenting your findings about a new tropical disease in front of some doctoral society, you will get a much different reaction than a famous doctor presenting the exact same speech. Now imagine the doctor presenting in rapper clothing. Yet another reaction from the crowd, wouldn’t you say?


Your message itself is of course important. There are mainly three elements to affect your audience. You credibility in general, on the subject and in the situation, called ethos. We covered that in the previous section. The other two are pathos and logos. Pathos is appealing to the emotions of your audience. We are emotional creatures, and you will see this in a lot of situations. This is why humour can move mountains. This is why an emotional rapport and empathy will get your deal signed. The last one is logos, the logical. This is basically the logical argument you chose to sway your audience.


You delivery is everything. How prepared are you for your presentation? Do you need something to read from, or do you know your speech from heart? Are you able to improvise and seem natural during your speech? You need to combine elements of credibility, argument and emotion in a solid package to effectively convey you point to the audience and move them towards the desired action.


This one is a bit tricky. What is the background of your audience? How should you deliver your message to convey it best to this audience in particular? When you are addressing a highly competent audience in your own field you might use more jargon or “technical speak”. If you were talking about the same topic, but as an introduction to some school children, you would be wise to use simpler language.


What is the desired effect your speech aims for? Do you wish to enlighten your fellow students about their campus possibilities? Do you want to change the perception of something? Think about your goal, and build your speech around it, so you can push people toward a specific action.


Why do we need public speaking?

In short we need public speaking because we want to affect and inspire action. It can be very subtle or very clear and big goals. Generally, I would say we wish to win people over to our side, which will give us more power or ability to achieve the things that we want. Or we want to inform or create awareness for something. It could also be to motivate, inspire or make a sale.

Additionally, by practicing and getting better and public speaking, you may notice the following side effects: the ability to lead, gaining more confidence, charisma and improved influence.

Public speaking is essential in society. To inspire action towards your goal will require you to hone your public speaking skills. Pretty much everyone will use these skills at some point or another. Here are some tips to hooking your audience and keeping them hooked during your presentation.


3 actionable advice to hooking your audience

First impression: You have a few seconds to grab your audience before they start to zone out in different ways. Start your presentation powerfully. There are multiple ways to do this, as I will mention in other posts. A couple for the road, here, might be to start with a story, humour, being provocative or with great enthusiasm. It rather depends on who you are as a character. Trying to be something you are not is usually not a good approach, as it will shine through more than you think.

Engagement: Imagine you are talking with only one other person. I would be willing to bet that you use phrases like “right”, “you know”, asking the other person questions related to the topic or telling them to put themselves in your place. The point is this is a way of engaging the listener – by dragging them in and making your point relevant to them. We use techniques like these in one vs one communication all the time. You can use it to build rapport and make the point across with a bigger audience too. Ask questions as you go to engage them and make the audience identify themselves into the story. Tell them to “imagine if…” to make them visualize a point. Talk to individuals in the crowd. Using humour along the way of your speech is also a brilliant way to keep engagement up, although, not suitable for every speaker.

Kairos, or rather – timing: We learnt a lot from the ancient greeks. One of which is the importance of delivering a message at the opportune time. Called Kairos in the ancient times, we have all come to know it as timing. Taking breaks after you deliver a point in your presentation can really put emphasis on your point, or drag your listeners in further. As much as one would like to coach timing, it is a skill that’s really utterly dependent on “fingerspitzgefühl”. I love that word. And I sneakily put it in here. Anyway, that means you need a «sense» for it. Moreover, to get that sense you need practice from real life scenarios. Although watching some Youtube videos can help.


Last note

Now that you have a clear understanding of what public speaking is, how the different elements impact your speech, why it is important and how you can improve your own public speaking skills – go ahead and practice!