In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with all kinds of messages. No matter where you live, where you work or go to school, or what kinds of media you use, you are probably exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of advertising messages every day. Because we live in a world where we are overwhelmed with content, communicating information in a way that is accessible to others is more important today than ever before. To help us further understand why public speaking is important, we will first examine public speaking in everyday life. We will then discuss how public speaking can benefit you personally.
Everyday Public Speaking
Every single day people across the United States and around the world stand up in front of some kind of audience and speak. In a typical day, you may find yourself speaking in front of a group of college students for an organization you belong to, giving a presentation in your psychology class, addressing the Student Government Association about a pressing concern, or even speaking to a crowd at a religious function. Each and everyday you go out and interact with your community, you will find a variety of opportunities to make a difference in the world through public speaking. Although public speeches are of various types, they can generally be grouped into three categories based on their intended purpose: informative, persuasive, and special occasion.
One of the most common types of public speaking is . The primary purpose of informative presentations is to share one’s knowledge of a subject with an audience. Reasons for making an informative speech vary widely. For example, you might be asked to instruct a group of coworkers on how to use new computer software or to report to a group of managers how your latest project is coming along. A local community group might wish to hear about your volunteer activities in Tulsa during spring break, or your classmates may want you to share your expertise on new agricultural practices. What all these examples have in common is the goal of imparting information to an audience.
TV announcers, teachers, lawyers, and entertainers should be able to speak well, but most other professions require or at the very least can benefit from the skills found in public speaking. Informative speaking is integrated into many different occupations. Physicians often lecture about their areas of expertise to medical students, other physicians, and patients. Teachers find themselves presenting to parents as well as to their students. Firefighters give demonstrations about how to effectively control a fire in the house.
Financial planners might address a group at the public library for an information session on retirement planning. Being able to effectively transmit your ideas to other individuals is an important personal and professional skill. It is believed 70% of jobs today involve some form of public speaking (Aras, 2012). Informative speaking is a common part of numerous jobs and other everyday activities. As a result, learning how to speak effectively has become an essential skill in today’s world.
A second common reason for speaking to an audience is to others. In our everyday lives, we are often called on to convince, motivate, or otherwise persuade others to change their beliefs, take an action, or reconsider a decision. Advocating for music education in your local school district, convincing clients to purchase your company’s products, or inspiring high school students to attend college all involve influencing other people through public speaking.
With the recent economic shift from manufacturing to service careers, the ability to communicate with others has become crucial. Top CEOs advise that great leaders should be able to communicate ideas effectively, they should be able to persuade, build support, negotiate and speak effectively in public (Farrell, 2011). Professional and motivational speakers can make millions of dollars each year from people who want to be motivated to do better in their lives. Whether public speaking is something you do every day or just a few times a year, persuading others is a challenging task. If you develop the skill to persuade effectively, it can be personally and professionally rewarding.
Special Occasion Speaking
involves an array of speaking occasions ranging from introductions to wedding toasts, to presenting and accepting awards, to delivering eulogies at funerals and memorial services in addition to after-dinner speeches and motivational speeches. This form of speaking has been important since the time of the ancient Greeks, when Aristotle identified epideictic speaking (speaking in a ceremonial context) as an important type of address. As with persuasive and informative speaking, there are professionals, from religious leaders to comedians, who make a living simply from delivering entertaining, special occasion speeches. As anyone who has watched an awards show on television or has seen an incoherent best man deliver a wedding toast can attest, special occasion speaking is a task that requires preparation and practice for most speakers to be effective.
Personal Benefits of Public Speaking
Oral communication skills were the number one skill that college graduates found useful in a business setting, according to a study by sociologist Andrew Zekeri (2004). That fact alone makes learning about public speaking worthwhile. However, there are many other benefits of communicating effectively for the hundreds of thousands of college students every year who take public speaking courses. Let’s take a look at some specific personal benefits you will get both from taking a course in public speaking and from actually giving public speeches.
Benefits of Public Speaking Courses
In addition to learning the process of creating and delivering an effective speech, students of public speaking leave the class with a number of other benefits as well. Some of these benefits include developing critical thinking skills, strengthening verbal and nonverbal skills, and building public speaking confidence.
Developing Critical Thinking Skills
One of the very first benefits you will gain from your public speaking course is an increased ability to think critically. Problem solving is one of many critical thinking skills you will engage in during this course. For example, when preparing a persuasive speech, you will have to think through real problems affecting your campus, community, or the world and provide possible solutions to those problems. You will also have to think about the positive and negative consequences of your solutions and then communicate your ideas to others. At first, it may seem easy to come up with solutions for a campus problem such as a shortage of parking spaces: just build more spaces. But after thinking and researching further you may find out that building costs, environmental impact from loss of green space, maintenance needs, or limited locations for additional spaces make this solution impractical. Being able to think through problems and analyze the potential costs and benefits of solutions is an essential part of critical thinking and of public speaking aimed at persuading others. These skills will help you not only in public speaking contexts but throughout your life as well. As we stated earlier, college graduates in Zekeri’s study rated oral communication skills as the most useful for success in the business sector. The second most valuable skill they reported was problem-solving ability, so your public speaking course is doubly valuable!
Another benefit to public speaking is that it will enhance your ability to conduct and analyze research. Public speakers should provide credible evidence within their speeches if they are going to persuade various audiences. So your public speaking course will further refine your ability to find and utilize a range of sources.
Strengthening Verbal and Nonverbal Skills
A second benefit of taking a public speaking course is that it will help you strengthen your verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Whether you competed in public speaking in high school or this is your first time speaking in front of an audience, having the opportunity to actively practice communication skills and receive professional feedback will help you become a better overall communicator. Often, people do not even realize that they twirl their hair or repeatedly mispronounce words while speaking in public settings until they receive feedback from a professor during a public speaking course. Before you even start a career, you have to get a job. Effective speaking skills make you more attractive to employers, enhancing your chances of securing employment and later advancing within your career. Employers, career counselors, and the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) all list good communication skills at the top of the list of qualities sought in potential employees. According to NACE’s executive director, Marilyn Mackes, the Job Outlook 2013 Report found that employers are looking for people who can communicate effectively (Koncz & Allen, 2012). Monster.com advises, “articulating thoughts clearly and concisely will make a difference in both a job interview and subsequent job performance” (McKay, 2005). Additionally, many folks around the United States will often pay speech coaches, seek out workshops, or read self help books to help them enhance their nonverbal speaking skills. People around the United States will often pay speech coaches over one hundred dollars per hour to help them enhance their speaking skills. You have a built-in speech coach right in your classroom, so it is to your advantage to use the opportunity to improve your verbal and nonverbal communication skills with the help of your professor.
Building Confidence in Public Speaking
An additional benefit of taking a public speaking class is that it will help improve your confidence with public speaking. Whether they have spoken in public a lot or are just getting started, most people experience some anxiety when engaging in public speaking. Heidi Rose and Andrew Rancer evaluated students’ levels of public speaking anxiety during both the first and last weeks of their public speaking class and found that those levels decreased over the course of the semester (Rose & Rancer, 1993). One explanation is that people often have little exposure to public speaking. By taking a course in public speaking, students become better acquainted with the public speaking process, making them more confident and less apprehensive. In addition, you will learn specific strategies for overcoming the challenges of speech anxiety. We will discuss this topic in greater detail throughout this book.
Benefits of Engaging in Public Speaking
Once you have learned the basic skills associated with public speaking, you will find that being able to effectively speak in public has profound benefits, including influencing the world around you, developing leadership skills, and becoming a thought leader.
Influencing the World around You
If you do not like something about your local government, then speak out about your issue! One of the best ways to get our society to change is through the power of speech. Common citizens in the United States and around the world, like you, are influencing the world in real ways through the power of speech. Just type the words “citizens speak out” in a search engine and you will find numerous examples of how common citizens use the power of speech to make real changes in the world—for example, by speaking out against “fracking” for natural gas (a process in which chemicals are injected into rocks in an attempt to open them up for fast flow of natural gas or oil) or in favor of retaining a popular local sheriff. One of the amazing parts of being a citizen in a democracy is the right to stand up and speak out, which is a luxury many people in the world do not have. So if you do not like something, be the force of change you are looking for through the power of speech.
Developing Leadership Skills
Have you ever thought about climbing the corporate ladder and eventually finding yourself in a management or other leadership position? If so, then public speaking skills are very important. Hackman and Johnson assert that effective public speaking skills are a necessity for all leaders (Hackman & Johnson, 2004). If you want people to follow you, you have to communicate effectively and clearly what people should do. According to Bender, “Powerful leadership comes from knowing what matters to you. Powerful presentations come from expressing this effectively. It is important to develop both” (Bender, 1998). One of the most important skills for leaders to develop is their public speaking skills, which is why executives spend millions of dollars every year going to public speaking workshops; hiring public speaking coaches; and buying public speaking books or listening to online tutorials.
Becoming a Thought Leader
Even if you are not in an official leadership position, effective public speaking can help you become a “.” Joel Kurtzman, editor of Strategy & Business, coined this term to call attention to individuals who contribute new ideas to the world of business. According to business consultant Ken Lizotte, “when your colleagues, prospects, and customers view you as one very smart guy or gal to know, then you are a thought leader” (Lizotte, 2008). Typically, thought leaders engage in a range of behaviors, including enacting and conducting research on business practices. To achieve thought leader status, individuals should communicate their ideas to others through both writing and public speaking. Lizotte demonstrates how becoming a thought leader can be personally and financially rewarding at the same time: when others look to you as a thought leader, you will be more desired and make more money as a result. Business gurus often refer to “intellectual capital,” or the combination of your knowledge and ability to communicate that knowledge to others (Lizotte, 2008). Whether standing before a group of executives discussing the next great trend in business or delivering a webinar (a seminar over the web), thought leaders use public speaking every day to create the future that the rest of us live in.
Bender, P. U. (1998). Stand, deliver and lead. Ivey Business Journal, 62(3), 46–47.
Edmund, N. W. (2005). End the biggest educational and intellectual blunder in history: A $100,000 challenge to our top educational leaders. Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Scientific Method Publishing Co.
Hackman, M. Z., & Johnson, C. E. (2004). Leadership: A communication perspective (4th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland.
Lizotte, K. (2008). The expert’s edge: Become the go-to authority people turn to every time [Kindle 2 version]. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Retrieved from Amazon.com (locations 72–78).
Rose, H. M., & Rancer, A. S. (1993). The impact of basic courses in oral interpretation and public speaking on communication apprehension. Communication Reports, 6, 54–60.
Zekeri, A. A. (2004). College curriculum competencies and skills former students found essential to their careers. College Student Journal, 38, 412–422.
the primary purpose of informative presentations is to share one’s knowledge of a subject with an audience
to convince, motivate, or otherwise persuade others to change their beliefs, take an action, or reconsider a decision
involves an array of speaking occasions ranging from introductions to wedding toasts, to presenting and accepting awards, to delivering eulogies at funerals and memorial services in addition to after-dinner speeches and motivational speeches
individuals who contribute new ideas; to achieve thought leader status, individuals must communicate their ideas to others through both writing and public speaking