Public speaking and being a public speaker

Speech generally involves the expression of thoughts, ideas and/or information through the use of conventionally understood sound symbols.

Everyone engages in speaking, whether in formal or informal contexts and whether to a willing or an unwilling person. Every form of talk in the public place does not translate into public speaking.

For instance, a harangue, which is a long and angry speech in which a person criticises someone or something, cannot be described as public speaking. Public speaking is effective oral communication with an audience, which could border on any topic and could be formal/informal or planned/random. Public speaking, which can be compared to oration, requires eloquence and rhetoric. This piece will discuss the different types of public speaking, the steps involved in engaging in public speaking, the public speaking methods and the qualities of a good public speaker.

Scholars have identified five major kinds of public speaking/speech. Speeches that are related to campaigns and political interests, usually geared towards soliciting electoral support for elections, are called political speeches. There are also religious speeches, which are designed to gain adherents to religions. Such speeches come in form of preaching, teaching and exhorting. Social speeches are made at ceremonies and atmospheres of conviviality such as weddings, thanksgiving meetings and send-offs.

Speeches that are delivered to keep people abreast of the socio-economic state of a nation or an organisation are called socio-economic speeches. They include budget speeches, progress speeches and speeches delivered during annual general meetings. Academic speeches are delivered to reveal new findings or advance existing knowledge. Such speeches are delivered in seminars, conferences, symposia, workshops and even lectures. Having a clear knowledge of the type of speech one wants to deliver makes it easier to plan for the delivery.

Again, there are also purpose-based types of speech. First in this category is the informative speech. This is a common type of speech because people mostly speak to share information. Such kind of speech is used to describe a concept, explain how a thing works or give a report on a task or situation. Social and business speeches are usually informative speeches.

Informative speeches have to be accurate, clear, meaningful and interesting. In such speeches, the speaker should also adhere to the quality and quantity maxims. The quality maxim demands that the speaker should say only that which is true and/or expected, whereas the quantity maxim states that the speaker should not say more or less than is necessary for the occasion. The next kind of speech in this category is the persuasive speech.

This kind of speech is used in situations where there are different perspectives, and there is a need for a speaker to win the audience to his/her side of the argument. Audience analysis is essential in a persuasive speech. The speaker must be mindful of the beliefs, goals, values and attitudes of the audience. Logical and emotional appeals are also essential features of persuasive speeches. The last type of speech in this category is actuative speech.

An actuative speech is one which charges the audience to perform certain actions or follow certain directions. This type of speech deploys the mechanics of informative and persuasive speeches, since people have to be informed and persuaded before their actions can be influenced.

Read also: Teaching ‘speaking’ as a communicative skill

Moving on, there are certain steps involved in the preparation of a good speech. The first step is to choose and narrow a topic. If one is not given a specific topic, then one must create a working topic to guide the presentation. At other times when you are given a topic, it is not out of place to rephrase or limit the scope of the given topic if it helps you handle the presentation well. The next stage is to understand the purpose of the speech.

This is the politics behind public speaking. A speaker should know for sure what s/he sets out to achieve and the expected outcome from the audience. Sometimes, speakers set out to bamboozle their audiences just to win such people to themselves. The speaker should then gather materials for the speech. Even if it is an extemporaneous delivery, the speaker should still take a moment to think about his/her points in his/her head. This should be followed by making an outline and then writing the speech if it is one to be read.

A number of methods have also been identified in public speaking. There is the impromptu method which involves presenting a speech on the spur of the moment – without preparing before. The speaker gets to rely on his/her knowledge, experience and oratory prowess. Even when you have just a minute to give an impromptu speech, still take about ten seconds to get yourself coordinated. A memorised speech is one that is written, committed to memory and delivered without reading it out. It requires a good oracy skill on the part of the speaker. There is also the extemporaneous speech where the speaker is expected to have an outline to guide the presentation without having to memorise or read directly from a script.

Finally, certain rules are important for a public speaker to excel in the creative act. First among them is the need to be yourself, both in attitude and speech mannerism. Traces of imitation of someone else’s style of talking could earn a speaker disrepute. Appearance is another thing a speaker has to be mindful of, as it speaks volumes about him/her. A speaker must also maintain eye contact with the audience at random intervals to get clues about their attention and interest. Importantly, too, a speaker should gesticulate during a presentation. This forestalls boredom.

In conclusion, public speaking or speech making is an art and act deserving of mastery. A careful perusal of this piece can enhance one’s ability to prepare and deliver speeches.

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