What’s Public Speaking?
In the opening section of this chapter, we asked that you imagine your favourite public speaker, but what qualifies? How do we know when public speaking is happening? This section will briefly define public speaking to provide some working terminology and background information.
In public speaking, a speaker attempts to move an audience by advocating for a purposeful message—through informing, persuading, or entertaining—in a particular context. In almost all cases, the speaker is the focus of attention for a specific amount of time. There may be some back-and-forth interaction, such as questions and answers with the audience, but the speaker usually holds the responsibility to direct that interaction either during or after the prepared speech has concluded. As the focus, speakers deliver sound arguments in a well-organized manner. Historically, public speaking was a face-to-face process, but public speaking can now be delivered and viewed digitally.
Broken down, public speaking includes these basic components:
- The sharing of a well-organized, well-supported, message from a designated speaker to an audience;
- In a context;
- Generally prepared;
- With purpose ranging from informative to persuasive to entertaining.
A speaker often feels strongly that the audience would benefit from the message presented. After all, public speaking is purposeful, so giving a speech is the process of providing a group of people with information that is useful and relevant. It may sound like a simple process, but it requires keen delivery – including attention to verbal and nonverbal skills – argument creation, research, and rehearsal to create a captivating experience for your audience. Public speaking is more than a message, it’s an experience.
Brené Brown is one speaker that creates an experience for her audience. You may be familiar with her TedTalk, “The Power of Vulnerability” from 2014 (she’s done some great stuff since then, too). She created a captivating experience with research around vulnerability, told stories that were intriguing, and used humour to draw the audience in —she advocated for ideas that were made meaningful to and for her audience.
We could, conversely, ask you to imagine a less-captivating public speaker. Sadly, we have these in our minds, too. These are often speakers who didn’t deliver information that you were compelled to listen to: they didn’t advocate that the information was of importance to you, to your community, or to other communities. Perhaps they gave you information that you already knew or had been disproven. Put simply: they didn’t create a meaningful experience.
What you advocate for and how you deliver your message are crucial to creating a captivating experience for your audience. Tracing public speaking back to its roots will underscore the historical relevance of public speaking as a form of advocacy.