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Skills for Effective Public Speaking

Public speaking refers to the process of speaking in public. Having a conversation with another person is not deemed public speaking as that is a dialogue between two people. Public speaking refers to a monologue that a person delivers to a group of people.

Some people are born orators who have been able to get onto a podium and speak to the audience with full confidence and composure from their early days; while most others need to develop the art of public speaking through self-development and practice. Public speaking is not restricted to only ‘confident’ people or extroverts, but introverts and quiet people can also hone their skills to face an audience.

Anyone who wishes to speak in public can use the following skills:

  • Posture
  • This refers to the pose in which a person stands or sits while speaking. The stance must bear confidence, but at the same time should not be haughty or full of attitude, as that would send signals of superiority to the audience. Depending upon the type of speech, a person may elect to sit or stand. If the occasion demands one person speaking at a time, then usually the standing posture is used. If there is a lectern, then the speaker may hold it lightly for support. In the absence of a lectern, hands should be behind the back. If provision has been made for a table and chair, then the person can elect to sit while speaking. Speakers generally sit in cases of news reading, broadcasts, panel discussions, or religious/political speeches.

  • Gestures
  • Again, depending upon the type of speech, certain gestures are permitted. It must be remembered that a public speech is not a theatrical performance and hence body movements should be restricted. In formal speeches, gestures with hands is commonly used, whereas in informal speeches (such as wedding toasts), other physical gestures may be permitted, though here too, only hand and arm gesticulations are popularly used. It is advisable to use some amount of gestures, as standing rigid sends wrong signals to the audience.

  • Modulation of voice
  • Controlling voice (inflection) is extremely important in order to attract and retain the audiences’ attention. The lilt of voice and tone used must be in accordance with the type of speech. When stressing upon a certain issue or point within the speech, modulation of the voice helps in putting the point across. Inflection is a necessary skill and all orators must practise the same.

  • Vocabulary
  • The choice of words used is ultra important. Speaking in Shakespearean English to a group of youngsters will be disastrous as they will not be able to comprehend the speech. It is essential to formulate the speech using a language and level of vocabulary that the specific audience will relate to. Any speech that ‘goes over the head’ (i.e., incomprehensible) is a failure.

  • Speech is ‘First Person’
  • Certain grammatical rules apply to public speaking. When the speech is being delivered by an individual whereby he is stating his (and only his) views, then the speech should be delivered in the ‘First Person’ using “I”. If the speech is being made on behalf of a group of people or an organization, then the use of “We” must be applied.

  • Scripts vs. Speaking Notes
  • Often public speakers read out verbatim from scripts. This tends to send a signal to the audience that the speaker is ill prepared. It is advisable to use speaking notes, wherein the speaker keeps referring to the points listed but for most of the time keeps looking at the audience. If the dialogue to be delivered is long (as in news broadcast) then a teleprompter can be used.

Over time, each orator develops his own skill sets as he improves his dialogue delivery with every speech that he gives. In due course, his ‘own style’ is developed.