The purpose of any public speaking opportunity is to inform, persuade, or entertain. Public speaking refers to any opportunity you have to address an audience. Examples include:
- Emmeline Pankhurst’s address to Hartford, Connecticut in her “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech
- Nelson Mandela: I am the First Accused in 1964
- William Wilberforce: Abolition Speech
- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation
- President George W. Bush’s 9/11 Address to the Nation
- Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream in 1963
- President Abraham Lincolns Gettysburg Address in 1863
- Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman?
Six essential elements which will affect you as an orator, your credibility, and your message.
- Audience Engagement
Any speaker is only as effective as their communication. To communicate the message you want to communicate you have to understand pronunciation, articulation, projection, inflection, and audience engagement.
In order to engage your audience, not only do you have to verbally invite them in, but you have to get them to believe your invitation. Audience members who have experienced, first hand, speeches like that of Dr. King or Emmeline Pankhurst have experienced the traditional delivery of speech. While this is powerful, newer technologies are making changes in how speeches are delivered.
Some situations allow for the speaker to interact personally with members of their audience, and some don’t. However, regardless of how you choose to engage your audience, and no matter the size of the audience, eye contact is the start of that engagement.
It creates a connection of trust, and allows your audience to bridge gaps from their perspective of you and your credibility as a speaker. When we say something like, projection counts, it’s not to say that you should yell. To project something is to push it forward.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was unable to stand to attention or stride across a stage because he’d had polio. However, when he spoke, he projected confidence. Projection of your voice starts in your diaphragm and uses your natural tone of voice. It does not involve yelling. It involves making yourself heard, and seen as a confident speaker, which demands credibility.
Inflection is your voice modulation. Have you ever noticed how the tone of your voice raises slightly when you ask a question? Or how it lowers when you get angry?
Effective inflection can be utilized during the delivery of a speech for dramatic effect. Doing things like lowering your voice on an important point can get your audience to lean in a little bit. Sometimes, when executed perfectly, you can actually see them lean in even though you’re speaking through a microphone. This is because softening the volume of your voice indicates that you’re telling them a secret, or something super important.
We have in built natural responses to changes of inflection, and projection that allow us to become better listeners when we’re part of an audience.
There is nothing more irritating to an audience member than when a previously credible speaker pronounces a word incorrectly, or when they pronounce a word that goes against the grain of a cultural norm. Potatoes and tomatoes are two words that are pronounced differently depending on which region of the country you’re in, and normally, it doesn’t actually matter how you pronounce something in a private conversation. But if you’re delivering an agricultural speech in Arkansas and you say potato with a long ‘a’ in the middle, half of the audience will immediately check out.
Ensure your pronunciation is tuned in to your cultural surrounding, or at the very least, as for forgiveness ahead of time.
When speaking, posture is important. It speaks to credibility and confidence. If you’re scared or anxious, it’s natural to try to put as much of yourself behind your podium as possible. Instead, stand straight, and a foot or two away from the podium.
When there is a podium, it can serve as a sort of barrier between you and the audience, especially if you’re anxious. Cut this tendency off at the pass and just keep your distance. Don’t lean on your microphone stand, or podium. Keep your balance evenly between your feet rather than swaying back and forth, and project your body language with confidence.
Again, credibility is everything. Plan your speech with content you are comfortable conversing in. Interruptions will occur, sometimes in the form of a rude audience member injecting a question in an attempt to throw you off balance. Knowing your subject matter is key to recovery and maintaining credibility in situations like this.
The best of any speech or presentation will inform your audience, entertain them in some way to keep their attention, and persuade them of some action, belief, or truth of message. You can employ any one of Aristotle’s strategies of rhetoric, or all of them, and every speech includes you, the speaker; your message; the how, where, and when of your speech; an audience; and a consequential effect. No matter your strategy of rhetoric or purpose for speaking, physical and vocal presentation play a part in all of it.