This unit talks about the introduction to public speaking and what is involved in it.

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.

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Consider the occasion
  • Assess your Speechmaking Situation
  • They are Assess, Analyse, Research, Organise, Deliver, and Discern.
  • 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 feedback 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-to-date 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 road-map 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 computer-generated 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.

Differences between Public Speaking and Other Forms of Communication

It is important for you to understand the differences between oral and written presentations, and the differences between speeches and ordinary conversion. You are probably already aware of some of these differences through your own experiences of written and spoken communication. We include them here simply to draw your attention to them. See (section 3.41 and 3.4.2).

  • Difference between private and public speaking

Public speaking is to a general audience. Private speaking is to certain individuals.

  • Differences between Conversation and Public Speaking

Despite their similarities, public speaking and daily conversation are not identical. As the size of your audience grows, the manner in which you present the story will change. You will find yourself adapting to three major differences between conversation and public speaking. First of all, public speaking is more highly structured. It usually imposes strict time limitations on the speaker. In most cases, the situation does not allow listeners to interrupt with questions or commentary.

Therefore, public speaking is very much a one way communication. The speaker must accomplish her or his purpose in the speech itself. In preparing the speech, the speaker must anticipate questions that might arise in the minds of listeners and answer them. Consequently, public speaking demands much more detailed planning and preparation than ordinary conversation. Secondly, public speaking requires more formal language. Slang, jargon, and bad grammar have little place in public speeches. Even though a principal is very angry about the vandalism in school, he does not say, “We should send those idiots who vandalize the school property to hell.” Listeners react negatively to slang, jargon, or poor grammar, so speakers must polish their language and choose words for the greatest effect. Lastly, public speaking requires a different method of delivery. When conversing informally, most people talk quietly, interject stock phrases such as “you know,” “it’s like,” and “really,” adopt a casual posture, and use what are called vocalised pauses.

Effective public speakers, however, adjust their voices to be heard clearly throughout the audience. They assume a more erect posture. They avoid distracting mannerisms and verbal habits. In conclusion, with study and practice, you will be able to master these differences and expand your conversational skills into speech making.

Public speaking is when you speak it out loud to the world.

Private speaking is when you keep it to a group or a person you know.

The Difference between Oral Communication and Public Speaking

Public speaking is generally defined as speaking in front of a group, usually in an open setting. Oral communication is any form of speaking.

Ethics and Public Speaking

Have you ever thought about the implications of giving people inaccurate information on which to base important decisions or of persuading people to do something that could have an influence on the rest of their lives, or of denying them the right to express a point of view that differs from yours. You hear people say things like: “You can’t believe what he says – he’s a car salesman”, or “she’s an estate agent – she’ll say anything to make a sale”, or “you can’t discuss anything with him – he won’t let you get a word in edgeways”. In fact, we consider such behaviour to be unethical. In the same way that there are guidelines for ethical behaviour in other areas of life, so are there guidelines for ethical behaviour in public speaking.

Speaker Ethics

Here, we have presented guidelines to evaluate the ethics of your behaviour as a public speaker. Make the questions relevant to you personally by putting yourself in the place of the listener in each case, and think about the possible consequences of a public speaker using unethical means to persuade you to make a decision that was not in your best interest.

Let us study these guidelines that can facilitate the ethics of your behaviour as a public speaker:

Have I investigated the subject fully before expressing opinions about it?

This question relates to giving and receiving inaccurate information or faulty advice. For example, think of a union official explaining a new contract to workers. If the official does not fully understand the contents of the new contract, and its benefits and limitations, the workers will not obtain the information and advice they need to make an informed choice that could influence their future in the organisation.

Listener Ethics

You will probably find that it is easier to make listener ethics personally relevant to you because most of us are more in the audience than doing the speaking. Approach your study of listener ethics by, once again, providing concrete examples from your everyday experiences.

Please note that the guidelines for listener ethics can be summarized into two broad categories:

  • the obligation to give the speaker a fair hearing
  • the obligation to evaluate the speaker’s message ethically.

Listening in the Public Speaking Context

This section focuses specifically on listening in the public speaking context, rather than on listening in the interpersonal context. Nevertheless, the knowledge you already have will make it easier to understand this section of the unit. For example, you may find that you can pay less attention to some subsection because you have studied them before but take note that most of the information is presented in a different way because of the emphasis on the public speaking context.

During the course of each day we are constantly called upon to listen in a variety of situations. We listen to the sounds of nature, to traffic noises, to music, to advertisements, to persuasive speeches from politicians, and to our family, friends and colleagues. In fact, studies show that we spend most of our communication time engaged in listening rather than in speaking. However, we do not always listen as efficiently as we should. Test this statement out. Have you ever been lost because you did not follow the directions someone gave you correctly? Have you missed an appointment because you got there at the wrong time? Have you ever given inappropriate feedback because you were not listening to what was being said? When was the last time you jumped to a wrong conclusion or felt that you were misunderstood? All these situations involve your ability to listen attentively.

“Critical” in this context does not mean finding fault for the sake of finding fault. It means that, to assess a message, you should listen to both the positive points in a message and to its limitations or shortcomings. Most advertisements, for example, only stress the positive qualities of a product. In order to make an informed decision about whether or not to buy the product – whether it is the right product for you – you have to listen for what is not explicitly stated in the advertisement. In other words, you have to “listen” for the shortcomings yourself in order to evaluate the product. “Evaluate” is about judgment – how you rate or assess the quality of something. For example: is the knowledge conveyed by the speaker useful to you? Will you support the proposals recommended by the speaker? Why and how? The ability to listen critically is linked to how well you can evaluate your own and other people’s messages. Research has shown that learning to listen critically to other people’s speeches is one of the most effective ways of becoming more critical of your own oral presentations. This ability will go a long way towards helping you to speak in public with greater confidence.

Hearing and Listening

The reference to “deaf” ears brings us to the difference between hearing and listening. Make sure that you understand the following two points:

  • while hearing is described as a passive process, while listening is the active process of interpreting sounds, that is, converting sounds into meaning in the mind.
  • while we listen or give meaning to both the verbal part of the message and to the nonverbal part of the message.

Types of Listening

There are many names for different types of listening. Here is a collection of types and the different names that get ascribed to them, along with a brief description of each.

types of listening

types of listening 1

types of listening 2

types of listening 3

Causes of Inefficient Listening

Effective listening is arguably one of the most important skills to have nowadays. Personal relationships need effective listening skills to face complicated issues together. Business people and employees need effective listening skills to solve complex problems quickly and stay competitive. Students and professors need it to understand complex issues in their fields. Thus, it is beneficial if we can understand and eliminate listening barriers that blocks deep, harmonious and lasting relationships. For most people, we listen only to answer back or to have a reply, instead of listening to understand.

Effective listening, on the other hand, is not about the words hearing the words being delivered, and it certainly requires more than hearing the sounds transmitted.

Effective listening encourages us to understand what the other person talks about or feel. And we can do this by focusing on the other person, by thoughts and feelings and not only by words.

Barriers to Effective Listening

And to guide you on how to listen and communicate better, we have listed five (5) barriers for effective listening that you should consciously avoid or eliminate whenever you are engaged in a conversation with another person:

1.Environmental Distractions

Environmental distractions are factors that divide the attention of an individual or group from the chosen object of attention onto the source of distraction. It is the lack of ability to pay attention, lack of interest in the object of attention, or the great intensity, novelty or attractiveness of something other than the object of attention. Distractions can come from both external sources, and internal sources.

External distractions can include electronic gadgets like personal computers or laptops, cellular phones, music players, television, portable gaming consoles and etc. Internal distractions can be absent-mindedness, lack of interest, lack of attention, etc.

These external and internal distractions are the common barriers for effective listening. They are basic, but most of us often forget that these basic issues can happen at home, in school, at work or in the community.

To eliminate this type of listening barriers, when conversing with people, put yourself in a good environmental position without external and internal distractions. Take time to stop and give your full attention to the person you are talking to. It will not only help you understand the other person better, but also create more meaningful and deeper relationship with them.


Another type of listening barrier is our pride or ego. Most often, we let our pride or ego to take over the conversation. We think that we are already smart enough to even listen to other people. We think that we are better than other people and feel we have nothing more to learn from them. When we close ourselves and stop listening to other people, we are doomed because we stop learning. To eliminate this listening barrier, you have to be more open-minded to listen and learn from other people. You may learn more things if you open yourself and listen. But be mindful of selective listening. Remember that you do not have to agree with everything, but it is helpful if you at least, listen to what they have to say.


The human mind is mysterious and can process a lot of information, especially in between conversation, even while the other party is still talking. Which is why we have the tendency to interrupt since we assume that we already know what the other is telling us. Such behaviour is caused by another listening barrier called assumptions.

Assumptions are statements that are assumed to be true and from which a conclusion can be drawn. Quite often, when we make assumptions, we already create conclusion in our mind without even considering the thoughts and feelings of the other person. And as such, you create more gap and unresolved problems.

To resolve and eliminate this listening barrier, practice keeping an open-mind and listen before you make any assumptions. You may try putting yourself in the shoe of another so you can fully understand and feel the sentiments of the other person.


Another listening barrier to effective conversation is close-mindedness. Close-mindedness is intolerant of the beliefs and opinions of others; stubbornly unreceptive to new ideas. When we think that we have all the answers, and that the things we know are always the right answers, then our mind will close for new ideas.

In order to eliminate this listening barrier, strive to always keep an open mind for effective listening. You will learn and build deeper relationship if you stop being close-minded.


This listening barrier refers to an attitude or position of defense. It is when we constantly protect ourselves from criticism, exposure of our shortcomings, or other real or perceived threats to our ego.

Defensiveness is a primal response to feeling attacked, threatened, misunderstood or disrespected. This will normally lead to series of never ending arguments, protests, denials and blames. To eliminate this listening barrier, remember not to view comments and criticisms as personal attack. Instead use them as a tool for personal assessment, improvement and growth.

Most of the barriers listed above give us the tendency to interfere with the speaker. Interfering with the speaker also means that we do not value what they are saying.

Becoming a Better Listener

Any attempt to develop one’s listening skills has to take into account the different types of listening and the external and internal barriers that can interfere with one’s ability to listen efficiently. One way of dealing with some of these sources of interference is to concentrate on replacing poor listening habits and listening behaviours with effective skills and behaviours. Some of these listening behaviours are:

1.Show Respect

Respect that every human beings are different. Other people’s opinions and stories may be different from ours. Showing respect is essential for effective listening.

2.Be sensitive

Sometimes people just needs someone who can listen to their problems and stories so preaching and acting like a problem expert in this situation can cause deeper problems. There will be moments you need to be a little more sensitive on what other people think and feel, especially if you want to resolve the problem or save the relationship.


Learn to leave at least a couple of seconds pause after the speaker talks before giving your reply. On the other hand, before starting a conversation set a rule or agreement that both sides will let the other person listen first before speaking or replying. This may feel awkward or weird at first but it’s an effective way to create a good conversing environment. It will uneasy at first, but it will be much easier when it becomes a habit.

4.Listen to Understand

Most of us are listening because we want to have a good reply. This kind of attitude often gives us a problem when it comes to communication. Keep in mind that the most effective conversation are the ones where we’ve used our ears more than our mouth.

Our main goal is to avoid those effective listening barriers listed above. We need to set aside our defenses, open our minds for new ideas and start listening not just with our ears but with our hearts. Because sometimes the most important message having delivered is not in the words we just heard. We need to hear the words not being said.

Source:National University Open of Nigeria


SEE ALLAdd a note
Add your Comment

WhatsApp chat