In the workplace, and during your university career, you will likely be asked to give oral presentations. An oral presentation is a key persuasive tool. If you work in marketing, for example, you will often be asked to “pitch” campaigns to clients. Even though these pitches could happen over email, the face-to-face element allows marketers to connect with the client, respond to questions, demonstrate their knowledge and bring their ideas to life through storytelling.
In this section, we’ll focus on public speaking. While this section focuses on public speaking advocacy, you can bring these tools to everything from a meeting where you’re telling your colleagues about the results of a project to a keynote speech at a conference.
Imagine your favourite public speaker. When Meggie (one of the authors of this section) imagines a memorable speaker, she often thinks of her high school English teacher, Mrs. Permeswaran. You may be skeptical of her choice, but Mrs. Permeswaran captured the students’ attention daily. How? By providing information through stories and examples that felt relatable, reasonable, and relevant. Even with a room of students, Meggie often felt that the English teacher was just talking to her. Students worked hard, too, to listen, using note-taking and subtle nods (or confused eyebrows) to communicate that they cared about what was being said.
Now imagine your favourite public speaker. Who comes to mind? A famous comedian like Jen Kirkman? An ac
tivist like Laverne Cox? Perhaps you picture Barack Obama. What makes them memorable for you? Were they funny? Relatable? Dynamic? Confident? Try to think beyond what they said to how they made you feel. What they said certainly matters, but we are often less inclined to remember the what without a powerful how— how they delivered their message; how their performance implicated us or called us in; how they made us feel or how they asked us to think or act differently.
In this chapter, we provide an introduction to public speaking by exploring what it is and why it’s impactful as a communication process. Specifically, we invite you to consider public speaking as a type of advocacy. When you select information to share with others, you are advocating for the necessity of that information to be heard. You are calling on the audience and calling them in to listen to your perspective. Even the English teacher above was advocating that sentence structure and proper writing were important ideas to integrate. She was a trusted speaker, too, given her credibility.
Before we continue our conversation around advocacy, let’s first start with a brief definition of public speaking.