Public speaking is defined as a kind of communication-systematic, practical discourse that aims, through speech sounds and gesture, to add to the information of others or to affect their attitudes and action. The origins of the art of public speaking date back to ancient Greece and Rome, where oratory was studied as part of rhetoric. Back then, the job of public speakers was to proclaim governmental achievements and to debate political issues in public forums, or simply to entertain the audience.
The principles of speech preparation and delivery as presented by Aristotle in 330 BCE have not changed significantly over the ages. The importance of public speaking in the 21st century has grown significantly with the boom in electronic technologies. Television and the Internet allow public speakers to reach a significantly larger audience. According to Aristotle, there are three kinds of persuasive appeals: ethos, which is the credibility of the source of the message; pathos, appealing to the audience's emotions and logos, which represents the nature of the message.
Rhetoric is a discipline with a long history, dedicated to both training public speakers - known as orators or rhetors - and to the study of the factors determining effective public speaking. According to James MacCroskey (1968), public speaking theory and training was developed in the 5th century BCE by the Greek Sophists. The Sophist schools practiced public speaking and debating using techniques and approaches that are still applied in the modern theory of public speaking.
Public speaking in the 21st century is an important field of study, as it serves as an effective tool in various spheres of social life, including politics and advertisement. A variety of institutions offer training courses on public speaking as good orators can build their whole career on such a quality. Effective public speaking should meet four requirements. It should be audience-centered as a good public speaker should be aware of the nature of his or her audience in order to adjust the speech accordingly. A public speaker should pay specific attention to the demographic characteristics of the audience, including age and gender, ethnic origin and educational level. Understanding such factors may play a key role in influencing the perceptions of the audience. For example, determining whether a topic is interesting or not may depend on people's age. Different topics need a different amount of background information, depending on the life and educational experience of the targeted audience.
Public speaking should be organized appropriately. According to the traditional speech structure, it should include an introduction, body and conclusion. However, researchers into the field of public speaking offer a variety of speech organization patterns. In The Art of Public Speaking (2003), Stephen Lucas suggests an effective speech should be organized as follows:
- Informing the audience about the particular topic and the speech's purpose;
- Outlining the central issues of the topic and emphasising three main points to be remembered.
- From there on, the speaker may choose one of the five traditional patterns: chronological; spatial; causal; problem-solution and topical.
In Public Speaking: Concepts and Skills for a Diverse Society (2006), Clella Jaffe offers another three organizational patterns of public speeches. These include a wave pattern, based on repetition and a series of examples; a spiral pattern, which is also repetitive with a series of points gradually growing in drama or intensity; a star pattern, which binds a sequence of weight-balanced points.
A public speech should be clearly written. In order to be effective, it is essential that the audience understands what the speech means. Therefore, speakers should be careful choosing their vocabulary, especially when it comes to jargon and terminology. It should be presented compellingly. An effective presentation is honest and straightforward. It does not need to be dramatic, though it should be dynamic.
Public speakers should be able to grab and hold the audience's attention via various speech and gesture techniques. One way to seize the attention is to present a shocking fact or to tell a joke. The speaker should make the audience believe he/she is trustworthy in order to effectively communicate their message. Rehearsing the speech and re-creating the situation in which a speech will be delivered is an important part of the preparation process. The training also includes questions-and-answers practice as well as developing a good sense of timing.