Public speaking (also called oratory or oration) is the process or act of performing a speech to a live audience. Public speaking is commonly understood as formal, face-to-face speaking of a single person to a group of listeners. Traditionally, public speaking was considered to be a part of the art of persuasion. The act can accomplish particular purposes including to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. Additionally, differing methods, structures, and rules can be utilized according to the speaking situation.
Public speaking was developed in Rome, Greece, and Latin America. Prominent thinkers in these countries influenced the development and evolutionary history of public speaking. Currently, technology continues to transform the art of public speaking through newly available technology such as videoconferencing, multimedia presentations, and other nontraditional forms.
Public speaking can serve the purpose of transmitting information, telling a story, motivating people to act or encouraging people. This type of speech is deliberately structured with three general purposes: to inform, to persuade and to entertain. Knowing when public speaking is most effective and how it is done properly are key to understanding the importance of it.
Public speaking for business and commercial events is often done by professionals. These speakers can be contracted independently, through representation by a speakers bureau, or by other means. Public speaking plays a large role in the professional world. In fact, it is believed that 70 percent of all jobs involve some form of public speaking.
Although there is evidence of public speech training in ancient Egypt, the first known piece on oratory, written over 2,000 years ago, came from ancient Greece. This work elaborated on principles drawn from the practices and experiences of ancient Greek orators. Aristotle was one who first recorded the teachers of oratory to use definitive rules and models. His emphasis on oratory led to oration becoming an essential part of a liberal arts education during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The classical antiquity works written by the ancient Greeks capture the ways they taught and developed the art of public speaking thousands of years ago.
In classical Greece and Rome, rhetoric was the main component of composition and speech delivery, both of which were critical skills for citizens to use in public and private life. In ancient Greece, citizens spoke on their own behalf rather than having professionals, like modern lawyers, speak for them. Any citizen who wished to succeed in court, in politics or in social life had to learn techniques of public speaking. Rhetorical tools were first taught by a group of rhetoric teachers called Sophists who were notable for teaching paying students how to speak effectively using the methods they developed.
Separately from the Sophists, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle developed their own theories of public speaking and taught these principles to students who wanted to learn skills in rhetoric. Plato and Aristotle taught these principles in schools that they founded, The Academy and The Lyceum, respectively. Although Greece eventually lost political sovereignty, the Greek culture of training in public speaking was adopted almost identically by the Romans.
In the political rise of the Roman Republic, Roman orators copied and modified the ancient Greek techniques of public speaking. Instruction in rhetoric developed into a full curriculum, including instruction in grammar (study of the poets), preliminary exercises (progymnasmata), and preparation of public speeches (declamation) in both forensic and deliberative genres.
The Latin style of rhetoric was heavily influenced by Cicero and involved a strong emphasis on a broad education in all areas of humanistic study in the liberal arts, including philosophy. Other areas of study included the use of wit and humor, the appeal to the listener's emotions, and the use of digressions. Oratory in the Roman empire, though less central to political life than in the days of the Republic, remained significant in law and became a big form of entertainment. Famous orators became like celebrities in ancient Rome--very wealthy and prominent members of society.
The Latin style was the primary form of oration until the beginning of the 20th century. After World War II, however, the Latin style of oration began to gradually grow out of style as the trend of ornate speaking was seen as impractical. This cultural change likely had to do with the rise of the scientific method and the emphasis on a "plain" style of speaking and writing. Even formal oratory is much less ornate today than it was in the Classical Era.
Despite the shift in style, the best-known examples of strong public speaking are still studied years after their delivery. Among these examples are:
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Throughout the 18th and 19th century, women were banned to speak publicly in the courtroom, the senate floor, and the pulpit.[pages needed] It was also improper for women to be heard in a public setting. An exception to this custom was the Quaker religion that allowed women to speak publicly in meetings of the church. [pages needed]
Frances Wright was known as one of the first female public speakers of the United States. She advocated for equal education for women and men through large audiences and through the press.[pages needed] African American Maria Stewart, also said to be the second female speaker of the United States, lectured in Boston in front of both men and women just 4 years after Wright in 1832 and 1833 on educational opportunities and abolition for young girls.[pages needed]
Two sisters named Angelina Grimké and Sarah Grimké created a platform for public lectures to women. They were the first female agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Both sisters also had many tours through the years 1837 and 1839, which was only 5 years after Maria Stewart. The two sisters faced disagreement by churches that did not agree with their public speaking as women. Both sisters spoke about how slavery relates to women's' rights and why women need equality.
Effective public speaking can be developed by joining a club such as Rostrum, Toastmasters International, Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC), or Speaking Circles, in which members are assigned exercises to improve their speaking skills. Members learn by observation and practice, and hone their skills by listening to constructive suggestions followed by new public speaking exercises. These include:
The new millennium has seen a notable increase in the number of training solutions offered in the form of video and online courses. Videos can provide actual examples of behaviors to emulate. Professional public speakers often engage in ongoing training and education to refine their craft. This may include seeking guidance to improve their speaking skills such as learning better storytelling techniques, learning how to effectively use humour as a communication tool, and continuously researching in their topic area of focus.
New technology has also opened different forms of public speaking that are nontraditional such as TED Talks, which are conferences that are broadcast globally. This form of public speaking has created a wider audience base because public speaking can now reach both physical and virtual audiences. These audiences can be watching from all around the world. YouTube is another platform that allows public speaking to reach a larger audience. On YouTube, people can post videos of themselves. Audiences are able to watch these videos for all types of purposes.
Multimedia presentations can contain different video clips, sound effects, animation, laser pointers, remote control clickers and endless bullet points. All adding to the presentation and evolving our traditional views of public speaking.
These new forms of public speaking, which can be considered nontraditional, have opened up debates about whether or not these forms of public speaking are actually public speaking. Many people consider TED Talks and YouTube broadcasting to not be true forms of public speaking because there is not a real, physical audience. Others argue that public speaking is about getting a group of people together in order to educate them further regardless of how or where the audience is located.
Telecommunication and videoconferencing are also forms of public speaking. David M. Fetterman of Stanford University wrote in his 1997 article Videoconferencing over the Internet: "Videoconferencing technology allows geographically disparate parties to hear and see each other usually through satellite or telephone communication systems." This technology is helpful for large conference meetings and face-to-face communication between parties without demanding the inconvenience of travel.
Some of the earliest written records of training in public speaking may be traced to ancient Egypt. However, the most significant records are found among the ancient Greeks.