1 Public Speaking–So What, Who Cares?

Lynn Meade

Decorative photo of the word "speech"

If you can’t communicate and talk to other people
and get across your ideas,
you’re giving up your potential.

– Warren Buffet, American business magnate

 


Try This

  • Work in a group of 4-5 people.
  • Make a list of all the possible ways you might use public speaking now and in the future.


Why Does Public Speaking Matter?

If you are a student, public speaking may be the most important class you take. Really!  I believe it is the most important because it makes your other classes “work.” Some of you expect public speaking will be part of your future–maybe you are going into sales, or teaching, or politics, or even ministry, and you will be expected to give speeches on a regular basis.

The rest of you may be thinking graduation will mark the end of your public speaking days. I doubt you will make it through life without giving speeches. After all, if you are good at your job, you will likely be asked to train others to do your job–that’s public speaking. If you know a lot about your topic, you will likely go to a conference where you talk about what you know–that’s public speaking.  Many of you will find yourselves at a meeting in front of a group of colleagues explaining your proposal–that’s public speaking. Others of you will be managers giving out awards to your associates as part of a ceremony–that’s public speaking. All of you will likely be called on to give a toast at a wedding or retirement party–that’s public speaking. All of you will likely speak at a funeral of a loved one—that’s public speaking. In addition, you will have to do a job interview, and these days many of them are conducted as group interviews or even as presentations–that’s public speaking.
Like it or not, most of you will do public speaking. It is for these reasons I say, your ability to give a speech well can make all your other training work for you. It can help you in your relationships as you use your skills to celebrate with others.

Let me remind you of a few more reasons having good presentation skills is important to you.


If I went back to college again,
I’d concentrate on two areas:
learning to write and to speak before an audience.
Nothing in life is more important
than the ability to communicate effectively.
President Gerald Ford


Employers Seek Good Communicators

Getting ahead of the next curve requires courage and communication:
Courage to determine the next bold move, and communication
to keep the troops committed to the value of moving forward.
Rallying stakeholders to move together in a common course of action
is all part of the innovation and survival process.
Leaders at every level in an organization
need to be skillful at creating resonance
if that organization is to control its own destiny.
― Nancy Duarte, Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences

Employers want to hire people who are good communicators. Learning to develop your public speaking skills will help you to be employable and to succeed in your future career.  The National Association of Colleges and Employers does an annual survey of the top attributes employers want to see on resumes and communication skills are consistently high on the list.

ATTRIBUTE % OF RESPONDENTS
Problem-solving skills 91.2%
Ability to work in a team 86.3%
Strong work ethic 80.4%
Communication skills (written) 77.5%
Leadership 72.5%
Communication skills (verbal) 69.6%
Initiative 69.6%
Detail-oriented 67.6%
Technical skills 65.7%
Flexibility/adaptability 62.7%
Interpersonal skills (relates well to others) 62.7%
Computer skills 54.9%
Organizational ability 47.1%
Creativity 23.5%

Source: Job Outlook 2020, National Association of Colleges and Employers

Graduates Say Public Speaking Skills Helped with Career Improvement

Public speaking is not just essential to get the job but to keep and advance in a job. Surveys of college graduates reported oral and written communication skills, public speaking, group leadership, and motivating and managing others were most essential for career improvement. In a Gallup Alumni survey, graduates reported they wished they had more communication training to help them once they have graduated.

Public Speaking is a Part of Your Civic Responsibility

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
concerned citizens can change the world.
Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead, American Cultural Anthropologist

Speaking up for what you believe in is an important part of being in a democracy. This is not all about you. The opportunities you have been given and the education you are receiving can be used to help others. Boyer, in an article titled Civic Education for Responsible Citizens, suggests at the heart of a good education is civic engagement. Students should “develop responsible ways of thinking, believing and acting.”  

You Can Make a Difference

Rather than tell you why you should speak up, I would rather show you how others have spoken out and made a difference.

Watch this excerpt from Greta Thunburg. At age 16, she spoke at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019. To watch the full speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMrtLsQbaok

At age 19, Zach Wahls stood before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee to talk about his experience of growing up with same-sex parents.

Amanda Gorman at 22-years-old read her poem, The Hill We Climb at the inauguration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Presentational Literacy Helps You Share Your Ideas

Chris Anderson, from TED Talks, reminds us of the campfires of old have become the fires of the internet where ideas can spread. More than ever presentational literacy is important.

(Heads up, there is an embedded ad in this video)

Public Speaking Allows You To Tell Your Story

Each of us has a story to tell.

Think about a tough time you went through and how you came out stronger having been through that experience.
What if you could take that experience and use it to help others push through?

Think about how you had to learn something the hard way.
What if you could tell others about what you learned so they don’t make the same mistake?

Think about a historic event you witnessed: 911, Global Pandemic, Race Riots.
What if you could tell others what you witnessed so they could see history as more than words on a page?

A lot of public speaking is just people telling their stories. Here examples.

Go to National Public Radio’s This I Believe and find a story.

Go to the Moth, the Art and Craft of  Storytelling, and watch one of the speeches. This club in New York City had now gone international. (Think of a coffeehouse meets poetry slam meets comedy club. )

Professional Speakers Can Make Good Money

Some people make a career around public speaking. Just for fun, follow one of these links to a speaker bureau and see how some are using their public speaking skills and earning a substantial income in the process.

Public Speaking Can Help You Grow as a Person

When most people think about public speaking, they think about what they are giving to others. Very few people think of public speaking in terms of what they get. You will find when you deliver a speech, you gain knowledge, you gain confidence, and you gain a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

Speech coach Martin McDermott helps his students think about what they will gain by asking them, “What will go right when you speak?”

  • I will learn about public speaking, a workplace skill in great demand.
  • I will stand up to one of the greatest fears human beings face.
  • My audience will learn something valuable from me they can apply to their lives.
  • I will experience power and self-confidence I didn’t know I had.
  • I will see myself in a new and more positive light.
  • I will share interesting parts of myself, and others will come to know and like me.
  • I will discover a hidden talent for speaking.
  • I will grow as a person.

What is the Purpose of Public Speaking?

The many fathers of rhetoric debated this heavily. Quintilian, a Roman rhetorician said citizens have five duties when it came to public speaking:

  • Defend truth.
  • Protect the innocent.
  • Prevent criminal behavior.
  • Inspire the military.
  • Inspire the public.

Do you think this list is still applicable?

Are there any things you would add?

Are there any things you would take away?

 

So What Who Cares?

One of the things you should do as you write a speech is to ask, “So what who cares?” Who is going to listen to your speech and why they should care about what you are saying? When I wrote this book, I asked myself the same question. I asked, “Why would anyone care about public speaking.”

So what, who cares? You should care because public speaking is not a class you take, it is what you do to get your message across. It is not about getting a grade or having a checkmark on your degree plan, it is about learning to develop important skills that will help you accomplish your goals. It is not about you as a professional, having to give a speech, it is about you having an opportunity to share your message. It is not about you as a teacher having to teach, but about students who need to learn.

So what, who cares. Hopefully, you care. Hopefully, you care enough about yourself to try to be the best version of yourself.

What happens from this point on, is up to you.


Be skillful in speech,
that you may be strong.
Merikare, Egyptian Pharoah

 

Key Takeaways

Remember This!

  • Public speaking is a skill that is not only helpful while you are in college but will likely be helpful in job attainment and career advancement.
  • Doing public speaking will help you grow in knowledge and gain confidence.

 

Bonus Features

 

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References

Anderson, A. (2021). We can help you master public speaking. [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcoch-Mpgls Standard Youtube License.

Aras, K. (2012). The nuts and bolts of public speaking: Practical tools for powerful presentations. Retrieved from http://www.thecommunicationfactory.com/seminars/skills/PublicSpeaking.php  

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Civic education for responsible citizens.  Educational Leadership, 48(3), 4-7. http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_199011_boyer.pdf

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. (2001).  de Oratore. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present (2nd ed.). Ed. Bizzell, Patricia, & Herzberg, Bruce.

Colby, A, Ehrlich, T. Beaumont, E. & Stephens, J. (2011). Educating undergraduates for responsible citizenship. Change, 35 (6) (2003): 40-48. https://doi.org/10.1080/00091380309604127

Elder, L. & Paul, R. (2008). Critical thinking: Strategies for improving student learning, Part II. Journal of Developmental Education, 32 (2).  34-35.  https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ868666.pdf

Gallup (2014). Measuring college and university outcomes. Measuring College and University Outcomes (gallup.com)

Gorman, A. (2021). The Hill We Climb. Biden-Harris Inauguration. [Video] YouTube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZ055ilIiN4  Standard YouTube License.

Quintilian. Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory J. S. Watson. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1856. Print.

McDermott, M. (2014). Speak with courage. Bedford St Martin.

National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2020). The top attributes employers want to see on resumes. https://www.naceweb.org/about-us/press/2020/the-top-attributes-employers-want-to-see-on-resumes/

National Speech & Debate Association. (2020). Happy National Speech and Debate Education Day from Jared Padalecki. [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW8B4azcKA8  Standard YouTube License.

Snippe, E. (2016). 101 quotes to inspire speakers. https://speakerhub.com/blog/101-quotes

Thunberg, G. (2019). Emotional Greta Thunberg attacks world leaders: “How dare you?” [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVlRompc1yE Standard YouTube License.

Thunberg, G. (2019). Greta Thunberg to world leaders: ‘How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.’ [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMrtLsQbaok Standard YouTube License.

Wieges, J. C. (2011). Civic engagement in the public speaking classroom. [Dissertation, Iowa State University]. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1198&context=etd

Zekeri, A.A. (2004). College curriculum competencies and skills former students found essential to their careers. College Student Journal, 38, 412-422. (no doi).

University of Minnesota Library Open Resource Textbook. (2013). Speaking in personal and civic contexts in communication in the real world: An introduction to communication studies.  https://open.lib.umn.edu/communication/chapter/12-1-speaking-in-personal-and-civic-contexts/

Wahls, Z. (2011). Zach Wahls speaks about family. [Video] YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSQQK2Vuf9Q&feature=emb_logo Standard YouTube License.

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Advanced Public Speaking (BETA) by Lynn Meade is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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