In the previous article, you studied various theories about how we persuade other people. In this unit, you will get to understand the techniques of persuasion, and you will be exposed to the issues that create the fear that most people have of speaking in public. The reason we do this at the outset is that we would like to assure you that it is perfectly normal to feel uneasy – even terrified – of standing up in public and addressing a crowd of people! During the course of this module we will give you as much advice as we can to help you to overcome your fears and stand up in front of a crowd of people with confidence.
The Oral Tradition
This section is a very brief overview of the oral tradition in Africa. Its purpose is draws your attention to the fact that public speaking is not a modern invention. It has been a part of the culture of many African countries for hundreds of years. We concentrate on the praise-poem as an example of African oral literature because we assume that you have heard about praise-singers or have seen them in action, either in real life or on the television.
However, as you may be able to tell, the study of communication was based in the oral tradition. The oral tradition refers to the vocal transmission of information between people from generation to generation. History, law, tradition, culture—all were passed along by orally for centuries prior to the creation of the written word. Even after the written word was invented, the “oral tradition” remained intact due to the prevalence of illiteracy. Even today there are still traces of the power of the “oral tradition.” For example, some nursery rhymes, such as Humpty Dumpty, date back to 16th century England. Did you ever sing it as a child? Well, you may not know it refers to a cannon used in the English Civil War which fell from its perch atop a church wall when, in 1648, it was hit by enemy fire. It can be hard to believe, given that we live in a mass and computer mediated society, that at one time the spoken word was the primary medium of communication, even over the written word.
The oral tradition of public speaking is most closely tied to the study of rhetoric. Rhetoric is generally known as the art of using discourse to persuade people. Most often, rhetoric is used to persuade individuals to take up or reject a belief, assign meaning to a person, event or object, or even perform an action. Rhetoric is actually one of the oldest disciplines studied in the Western world; its origins date about to around 476 B.C.!
Murphy’s (2001) work on rhetorical scholarship originally focused on both the creation of and analysis of public speaking since it has historically been the main vehicle of persuasion. Political assemblies and campaigns are still prototypical contexts of rhetorical, public speech. Ironically, rhetorical theory emerged from written classical texts from the ancient Western civilizations of Greece and Rome.
Importance of Public Speaking
As you study this section, please relate the points we make about the importance of acquiring public speaking skills to your own personal, social and work circumstances. Those of you who have not yet held a fulltime position could think about the following:
- After graduating from University, Phuma obtained a good position in a large company. He worked on a project to increase the efficiency of the salaries department. After six months, his supervisor asked him to prepare a presentation for all the senior personnel in the organisation. Phuma had to report on the progress he had made and his plans for implementing his recommendations.
- The scenario we have sketched is not an unusual situation for a university graduate to find him – or herself in. If you were in Phuma’s position, would you feel confident about giving this presentation? Please note the fact that, at the end of this section, we emphasise that successful public speaking involves more than just a good speaker.
The Public Speaking Process
For many people, Public Speaking can be so daunting that they will do almost anything to avoid it. Yet once we have a taste for it and discover the real rewards that can result from giving a good speech, many of us wonder what all the fuss was about. Given some encouragement and some good public speaking training almost anyone can develop the ability to deliver a good speech in public. There is no magic wand. We cannot transform you instantly into someone with no fear of the auditorium. What we can do however is demystify the public speaking process for you. We can give you enough insight and understanding about the dynamic between you and your audience that you will start to feel in control of the event rather than run by it.
This is a turning point for most people. They get to the point where they feel they know what they are doing, at which point what they have previously experienced as anxiety they now start to feel as exhilaration. Confidence is a key factor to develop as a public speaker. The following processes of public speaking can help you prepare your talks.
- They are Assess, Analyse, Research, Organise, Deliver, and Discern.
- Assess your Speechmaking Situation
- Consider the occasion
- How long will your talk last? Will you be the keynote speaker or one of many? Has your audience heard you before and what is their impression of you and your organisation? Is this talk one of many or a single presentation?
- Find a topic. Generally speaking; the topic of your talk is already apparent to you. You want to speak before a community group to change a policy. You have been asked to make a toast at your best friend’s wedding. Your boss is retiring and you’d like to honour her. Or you are sharing your recommendations for improving a procedure to make your work more efficient. It is recommended that your topic be worthwhile, appropriate, culturally sensitive and limited in scope.
- Clarify your speaking goal. What is the purpose of your speech? Have you been invited to share your expertise on a topic? Will you be celebrating a special occasion or presenting an award? Do you seek to motivate your audience to make a change? Or are you merely talking to entertain?
- Develop your central idea. Can you get your point across in thirty seconds or less? Audience members expect that you will be able to give them the bottom line and to make it accurate, brief, and clear.
- Analyse your Audience. Determine demographic, psychographic and situational characteristics of your audience. Just as a gardener must tend to the individual needs of each plant, a speaker must know his/her audience well. Learn all that you can about your audience in order to meet the needs of your speaking occasion.
- Consider cultural considerations. Ignoring cultural differences and expectations is considered rude and impolite.
- Interact with your audience during your talk. All speakers seek to converse with their audience members in order to reach them. As you are delivering your talk, consider adopting a heightened conversational tone.
- Get feedbacks following your talk If you are enrolled in a public speaking course, you will receive expert feedback from your instructor who is trained to do just this. Much like a referee or judge sees a performance differently than do the fans, your instructor will be looking at elements of your presentation that many audience members may or may not notice. Your audience members can give you some useful information as well, particularly about how well you adapted your talk to their particular needs.
Research your Topic
- Develop your expertise. You want to be perceived by your audience as an expert in your subject. Experience, knowledge, and integrity are keys to developing your expertise.
- Work with other experts to boost your credibility. Even the most expert of us recognizes that there are many perspectives and ways to look at a topic. Good speakers ensure that they are up-todate and aware of what other experts are doing in their field.
- Assess the credibility of resources. As you know, there are many of people who pretend to be experts on subjects for which they know little. In addition, some misrepresent the facts or fabricate evidence.
- Work with reference librarians. Reference librarians are experts in finding resources, particularly in accessing subscription databases and hard-to-find publications. They make research easy.
- Find evidence to back up your claims. Evidence gives credence to your arguments. When making a claim, you can expert your audience to be thinking, “What evidence do you have to support that assertion?”
Organise and Write your Speech
- Choosing a pattern of organization. A well organised speech typically includes three clear parts: a beginning, a middle and an end.
- Starting your talk. Be creative. In the introduction to your speech, gain your listeners’ attention and then focus their attention on your central idea by making a clear statement of your thesis and a preview of your main ideas. The introduction is also a time to develop rapport with your audience and establish your credibility.
- Ending your talk. As you conclude the speech, provide a summary that recaps the main ideas of your speech. Then, end in a dramatic fashion to give your conclusion a sense of finality.
- Developing visual aids. Visual aids provide support for your talk. Visuals can organize the entire presentation, providing a visual roadmap for the audience, and/or illustrate a point that you are trying to make. In some cases, a picture is worth 1,000 words.
- Using Power Point. Many presenters enjoy using computer software to generate a slideshow presentation. If used well, this is a valuable addition to your talk. Used poorly, your audience will suffer from death by Power Point.
Deliver your Presentation
- Select a mode of delivery. Will your talk be delivered extemporanously, as a manuscript, memorized or without preparation?
- Demonstrate dynamism. How will you capture and maintain the attention and interest of your audience?
- Manage your nervousness. Nervousness is both natural and normal. Once you expect and accept it, you will then be able to control and manage this apprehension.
- Interact with your audience. How will you adapt your talk to your audience during the presentation? How will you handle questions and answers?
- Use visual aids. For some, seeing is believing. How will you show your audience your main points? Will you use a computergenerated presentation like Power Point?
- Dress for success. The key to a successful appearance is to dress in such as way that no one notices what you are wearing.
Discern other Talks
- Analyse other talks. You will learn much by watching others’ talks. Using your critical thinking skills to evaluate the efficacy of a talk is also valuable.
- Give feedback to other speakers. As you become more proficient at watching and evaluating talks, you will likely be asked to offer feedback to speakers. While some speakers may prefer vague platitudes, it is likely that your colleagues will solicit constructive criticism and descriptive feedback.
- Learn from expert speakers. Talk with expert speakers and learn from them! Watch great speakers and discover their secrets for planning, practicing and presenting excellent talks.
- Work with public speaking support groups. There are a number of organisations available to assist you in developing your public speaking skills.
- Volunteer to speak. There are countless opportunities for you to give talks in business, social, and personal contexts. Whether it is a retirement, a sports banquet, wedding, or toast at a special dinner, you can use your speaking skills to make the occasion more special.
- Consider a career in public speaking. Many celebrities find themselves being expected to speak to community and professional groups. Indeed, many people who have encountered a signficantly unusual experience find themselves thrust into the public limelight for more than 15 minutes. Whether you are an author, athlete, actor, or activist, you might find yourself turning your fame into your career.