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Public speaking is an oral presentation in which a speaker addresses an audience,
and until the 20th century, public speakers were usually referred to as orators and
their discourses as orations.
A century ago, in the "Handbook of Public Speaking," John Dolman observed that public
speaking is significantly different from a theatrical performance. It is "not a
conventionalized imitation of life, but life itself, a natural function of life, a real human
being in real communication with his fellows. It is best when it is most real."
Unlike its predecessor oration, public speaking involves an interplay of not only body
language and recitation, but on conversation, delivery, and feedback. Public speaking
today is more about the audience's reaction and participation than an orations' technical
Six Steps to Successful Public Speaking
Clarify your objective.
Analyze your audience.
Collect and organize your information.
Choose your visual aids.
Prepare your notes.
Practice your delivery.
As language has evolved over time, these principles have become even more apparent
and essential in speaking well in a public capacity. Stephen Lucas says in "Public
Speaking" that languages have become "more colloquial" and speech delivery "more
conversational" as "more and more citizens of ordinary means took to the rostrum,
audiences no longer regarded the orator as a larger-than-life figure to be regarded with
awe and difference.
As a result, most modern audiences favor straightforwardness and honesty, authenticity
to the oratory tricks of old. Public speakers, then, must strive to convey their objective
directly to the audience they will be speaking in front of, collecting information, visual
aids, and notes that will best serve the speakers' honesty and integrity of delivery.
Public Speaking in the Modern Context
From business leaders to politicians, many professionals in modern times use public
speaking to inform, motivate, or persuade audiences near and far, though in the last few
centuries the art of public speaking has moved beyond the stiff orations of old to a more
casual conversation that contemporary audiences prefer.
Courtland L. Bovée notes in "Contemporary Public Speaking" that while basic speaking
skills have changed little, "styles in public speaking have." Whereas the early 19th
century carried with it the popularity of the recitation of classic speeches, the 20th
century brought a change in focus to elocution. Today, Bovée notes, "the emphasis is
on extemporaneous speaking, giving a speech that has been planned in advance but is
delivered spontaneously."
The internet, too, has helped change the face of modern public speaking with advents
of "going live" on Facebook and Twitter and recording speeches for later broadcast to a
global audience on Youtube. However, as Peggy Noonan puts it in "What I Saw at the
"Speeches are important because they are one of the great constants of our political
history; for two hundred years they have been changing — making, forcing — history."
The Importance of Public Speaking
If you ask most people, they'll probably say they don't like public speaking. They may
even admit to being afraid of it, since fear of public speaking is a very common fear. Or
they may just be shy or introverted. For those reasons, many people avoid public
speaking if they can. If you're one of those people who avoid public speaking, you're
missing out.
Over the years, public speaking has played a major role in education, government, and
business. Words have the power to inform, persuade, educate, and even entertain. And
the spoken word can be even more powerful than the written word in the hands of the
right speaker.
Whether you're a small business owner, a student, or just someone who's passionate
about something—you'll benefit if you improve your public speaking skills, both
personally and professionally. Some benefits to public speaking include:
Improves confidence
Better research skills
Stronger deductive skills
Ability to advocate for causes
And more
Public speaking is especially important for businesses since they've got a need to get
their message before potential customers and market their business. Sales people and
executives alike are often expected to have good public speaking skills.
How To Stand On Stage When Not Speaking
Do you ever feel a bit awkward or uncomfortable when you are on stage but not actively
With years of practice, I am now reasonably comfortable during my
presentations. When not moving to a new position, I keep my feet parallel, firmly
planted, and shoulder width apart. In the intermittent periods when I am not gesturing, I
do one of two things with my arms. In a casual settings, I allow my arms to rest
comfortably at my sides. When I need to be more authoritative, I hold my hands in a
steeple position at navel level with my fingertips gently touching.
The casual position and the authoritative position are fine and dandy for brief
moments. However, they both look and feel strange if assumed beyond the 10 second
mark. That tends to happen at the beginning and at the end of your public speaking
performance – when you are being introduced or when you are listening to questions
from the audience during Q&A.
This week, I had the great fortune to receive personal coaching from Richard
Butterfield at a leadership development retreat. When I took the stage in my casual
base position described above, Mr. Butterfield sized me up and said “Do you know that
you have assumed an aggressive posture?”. I responded “How so?” Richard explained
that the feet square-arms down base position in combination with my height made me
look like a line backer ready to pounce.
He proceeded to make a subtle adjustment that I immediately recognized as
comfortable, casual, and invaluable. I’ll call it the model position – you will see why in a
Step 1: Start in the casual position with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart. Let
your arms rest freely at your sides.
Step 2: Bring your right foot forward just a bit so that your feet are still parallel, but your
left toes are parallel with the front of the arch of your right foot.
Step 3: Keeping your right heel in place, pivot the front of your right foot outward at a
comfortable angle – about thirty degrees.
Step 4: Rest your weight on your left (back) leg. This will probably cause your front
(right) knee to bend a little.
Step 5: Place your left hand in your pocket with your thumb showing. You right arm will
naturally move an inch or two forward. (You may want to test the opposite with your
right hand in your pocket to see what is more comfortable).