Public Speaking: The Most Powerful Skill to Make a Difference
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Public speaking has traditionally been the most important skill for disseminating information and engaging large groups. Looking back to ancient democracies where orators talked and citizens listened in the Ecclesia – the dynamic of public speaking and the discussion of ubiquitous issues has not changed much since then. In this sense, it seems the best way to alert as many people as possible about a poignant change was to contract a powerful, informative and aptly vulnerable speaker to project the information from a grandstand.
Even today, this way of ‘politics’ still rings true. From international debates regarding legislation to boardroom congregations in small offices – those that speak well, change more. And it is this, the transformational nature of public speaking and presentation, which inspires the aforementioned question. Where is public speaking useful?
Public Speaking to Disseminate Information
Working down, we will first look at public speaking in the conventional sense. Public speaking still remains one of the most efficient ways to disseminate important information to a large group of people at one time. This is reaffirmed by the existence of such organisations as TED, such inspirational addresses as Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Rights rally and such awe-inspiring individuals as the sixteen year old Greta Thunberg. The way in which these individuals and organisations engage and inspire through the medium of public speaking, allows them to ensure meaningful social change at both a grassroots and corporate level. Further to this, product launches, the news, protests, acting and all other manner of iterations of public speaking exist – all reaching equifinality in their goal to portray information through the medium of address, only diverging with respect to their intentions. From this, it is clear that public speaking, in the conventional sense, is highly effective at delivering information on a grand scale. However, the impact of conventional public speaking is not confined to this singular strength, as its ability probes deeper and explores more emotive aspects of the human condition.
Uniting an Audience Through Public Speaking
In addition to disseminating information, conventional public speaking is an authentic and attractive medium to bring people together through an orators ability to highlight common goals and perspectives. This allows superficially different groups to recognise congruence on a deeper level.
This, we touched on earlier with respect to the emotional and highly influential address given by Martin Luther King Jr., in which he exclaimed the piercing phrase ‘I have a dream’. With this, he pierced previously impenetrable minds and hacked down glass walls of segregation and apartheid. This can seem far removed from our day-to-day life as, in the modern world, we scarcely see the levels of racism that were present in the past. However, it is possible to transport ourselves back to that time and truly appreciate the rich tapestry MLK Jr. helped visualise and weave the first few strings of progress. In conjunction, it is also possible to see the influence public speaking played in the success of this endeavour – the strong words, demeanour and overt moral of MLK Jr.’s speech leaves little ambiguity surrounding the reasons for the international impact of his campaign.
Public speaking does not only appeal to the conventional definition but can also be looked at as a title for any address whereby one individual has to engage a group of people in any context.
Public Speaking to Share Ideas and Inspire
Aside from the macrocosm of glamorous TED talks and the clear gravitas of speeches orchestrated by individuals such as Steve Jobs, Carole Cadwalladr and other pioneering minds, public speaking can also be examined on a meso-organisational level. Boardrooms, presentation rooms and venues filled with business-savvy conglomerates, or your colleagues; or both if you work for somewhere of exceptionally high-esteem, can carry as much pressure and gravitas as the Lincoln Memorial steps in your own world. Moreover, these situations are more easily identifiable as they are inherently more accessible and temporally relevant to our day-to-day life.
Most of us have had to stand up in front of a group of our peers with the intention of delivering knowledge, however, some deal with this situation more effortlessly than others. With this in mind, the importance of public speaking is made apparent as we all know how we feel just before we stand up and, furthermore, who we like to listen to and who we do not. The strive towards engagement is not merely confined to our idols, but it is a game we play every day at work when we try to present new ideas and convince our peers and superordinates that what we think will work, will work.
Public Speaking to Increase Understanding and Change Perspectives
Much like before, the reasons, both direct and indirect, for public speaking still ring true at this organisational level. We directly aim to disseminate information as effectively as possible to as large a group as possible with the intention of increasing understanding or changing perspectives. Directly, or indirectly, we also aim to bring people together within the organisation. This is true on a variety of levels. We aim to bring people with different opinions together in order to increase cohesion within the business, people from different sectors together in order to bring everyone up to speed, and people of different understandings together in order to highlight discrepancies with regards to knowledge.
A further reason for public speaking within a business which differs from the macrocosmic level, is to indirectly highlight our own competence with regard to understanding and ability to hold an address. However, this is not negative or selfish, as one might initially assume, as by demonstrating one’s own competence we aim to facilitate a platform for discussion about issues that people may not feel comfortable raising on their own accord. There is also a further level in which public speaking applies, this being the micro-individual level.
The Importance of Silence
Finally, we will focus upon the micro-individual level of public speaking. This level is defined as our day to day conversations with our family, friends, colleagues, clients and even total strangers. The art of holding a healthy conversation is made so much easier when understood in terms of public speaking as all the components are the same, just applied in a more relaxed context. This is something I have found the more I hold formal presentations as I will avoid the use of silence-fillers such as ‘um’ and ‘like’ and truly embrace the silence in intimate one-on-one conversations. This is something that was emphasised by one of my clients and friends, Helen Woodward; who was recently invited to speak at a TEDx talk in Kuwait on the subject of ‘Cultivating Courage and Compassion in Leadership,’ who explicated that, in her consultancy, she ‘lets the silence do the heavy lifting’.
This fundamental concept of the necessity for both silence and noise is both apparent in mundane life and in the aforementioned addresses, and thus a greater understanding of public speaking is bound to aid conversations and allow them to flow more elegantly. Furthermore, when preparing for a speech, a speaker must pay very close attention to their emotions in order to decipher exactly what they are trying to suggest. This is a practice that can subsequently be applied to informal life as a way of refining one’s own emotional intelligence.
Overall, public speaking is most overtly applicable at a conventional level where an individual will be aiming to engage a group of peers or strangers with the intention of minimising differences and disseminating information. However, public speaking can also be understood on two, increasingly intimate levels – these being meso-organisational and micro-individual, but in the same terms of bringing together differing groups and subsequently delivering information. In which case, it is clear that public speaking is useful in almost every social context as it helps us decode the nuances of our context and respond accordingly. In a round-about way, we are all public speakers. It’s just that some people have spoken to more people than others