What is Public Speaking?
Public speaking is the act of oral content delivery by an individual to a live audience in a planned, intentional manner in order to, among others, inform, guide, or entertain.
This action is subject to the following three key elements: Knowledge, Ethics and Skills.
Why is knowledge paramount?
In any situation where information is exchanged the following rule applies: “Content is King”. The fundamental qualities of effective content are: originality, relevance, interest, value.
The message needs to be original. It needs to present facts, ideas or opinions, (or all of the above), that the audience has not heard before. Novelty can be achieved through interpretation, combination, research, even simple discussion.
Caution: Participants are satisfied when they have to travel some distance between what they know and what they are exposed to. Too short and they might think that their effort was not worth their while; too long and they may feel lost.
The message needs to be relevant. It needs to deliver facts, ideas or opinions that answer specific needs of the audience. Such needs can be a specific worry, a troubling question, a timely message depending on when and why you are speaking to them.
Caution: Members in the audience feel content when they walk away with some food for thought that reflects their personal predicament or bliss either physically or mentally or both. Too much food and they may suffer from indigestion; too little and they may starve.
The message needs to be interesting. The message needs to be perceived as stimulating, exciting, motivating, fascinating or remarkable. The audience should feel hooked; that they are missing out if they are distracted. They need to feel gratified that they attended this particular talk.
Caution: The need to dazzle your audience should not be detrimental to substance. Too many (personal) jokes, too many visuals may dilute your points beyond recognition. They may feel entertained but do they appreciate your facts, ideas or opinions?
The message needs to be valuable. The message should be identified as unique and exceptional. It should reflect the speaker’s expertise and proficiency. It must be based on facts and evidence. The audience should feel secure to refer to it, possibly quote it without the risk of being embarrassed.
Caution: Validity must be differentiated from complexity or density. A valid message is quite often a simple message. The rule of thumb that one can use is: “Tell them everything and they will remember nothing”. The speaker must decide fairly early on how much information is to be included in the speech and how much is to be deferred to a printed version of the talk.
Why are ethics paramount?
Ethical public speaking is subject to the same set of values that are manifested and desired in other professional situations. They require credibility, honesty, integrity.
The message needs to be credible. Selecting trustworthy sources, including all appropriate information, reporting facts and figures accurately should be of primary concern. Intentionally or unintentionally misrepresenting content can be damaging to the speaker’s status and influence.
The message needs to be honest. The speaker’s goals should match the audience intentions. Openly and impartially. All sources should be acknowledged accurately, all facts should be quoted correctly, all ideas should be attributed appropriately. The only ideas you really possess are the ones you created. Be as protective of other speakers’ ideas as you would be of your own.
The message needs to have integrity. There is a range of interpretations that this quality can assume. Total trust between speaker and the audience can only be accomplished if the speaker has devoted time and effort in preparing for the occasion, both in terms of research and background reading. The speaker must rise to the occasion and deliver.
Why are skills paramount?
There is a long debate whether the “gift of the gab” is a result of nature or nurture. Undoubtedly, practice makes perfect. Everybody can learn how to ride a bicycle but not everybody is equipped to become a champion. Speed and distance can improve with practice and perseverance. Similarly, all presenters should rehearse and practice those areas that they feel uncomfortable with. They should also concentrate on those strengths that they can use to compensate their weaknesses.
All speakers should encourage feedback from trustworthy sources in order to identify the specific skill that they need to work on, e.g. tone of voice, posture, content, slide design, rate of delivery, eye contact, etc.
Always bear in mind that according to Mark Twain: “There are only two types of speakers in the world: the nervous and the liars.”