Public speaking is the act of orally presenting in front of a live audience. The art of public speaking is not a social invention of recent times. But it has its roots in the times of great Greek philosophers like Aristotle.
Art in its broadest sense can be defined as those processes or products that when presented in an aesthetic and orderly manner, reach the senses or emotions of the viewers. Public speaking is thus an art. It involves the speaker who makes efforts to get to the audience’s very core and to ensure that his actual message is reached.
Before jumping straight into justifying why public speaking is an art; let’s take a minute to clarify some age-old confusion about what public speaking is and what it isn’t?
Is Public speaking an art or science?
Public speaking could be science as it includes a few steps or rules that must be followed. These unsaid rules have found their acceptance among people.
It has its origin in the 5 step process of teaching public speaking as given by Cicero. This indicates that public speaking can be learned.
It can also be termed science because of the way it affects our normal bodily functions. For instance, the nervousness that you feel before presenting is your body’s response to stress.
Public speaking can also not be science. Science involves some basic rules and ways of doing things that guarantee a certain result. For instance, we all know that 2 atoms of oxygen with 1 atom of hydrogen form 1 molecule of water. In short, there are defined ways of doing it to get a particular result.
But public speaking doesn’t have one formula that will guarantee that your audience will love your presentation or speech. There are a gazillion ways in which you can choose to present. This is what makes it art. Art doesn’t have a set way of doing things. But its outcome is almost always the same, a satisfied viewer/ listener.
In this sense, public speaking is fine art.
Is Public speaking just a skill?
If Public speaking was just another skill, We would not be admiring the public speaking skills of a few great personalities.
These personalities like Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, and even Hitler possessed something beyond mere skills.
They could reach the audience by relating to them and talking about what the people wanted to listen to. It is their delivery and the art of instilling a unified emotion in people. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. during the struggle against racial discrimination in the USA instilled the feeling of hope. While in the case of Stalin’s propaganda, it was hatred.
So, we can say that public speaking is an art that can be honed by possessing a few skills.
Is Public speaking a public performance?
Public speaking is indeed an oral public performance wherein you share your ideas or findings with a huge audience. It can be done to educate the audience or entertain them or both. The idea behind any public performance is to be appreciated and for the message to reach the audience.
Now that we have understood what public speaking is not; we can form a clear perspective on why it is a form of art.
Reason why Public Speaking is an Art
- There is no one set way of Public Speaking
- Requires Creative imagination’
- Mindful artist
- It is uniquely yours
- Offers takeaways
- It might give you a new perspective
- There are hundreds of ways of interpreting it
- Has the potential to be immortal
1. There is no one set way of public speaking
There are a gazillion different ways you can go out there and present your content. Public speaking doesn’t have any set of rules or laws you must follow. As long as you have the mic and an audience in front of you, you can choose your way of communicating with them.
While a few jargons are advisable to follow like the use of proper body language and tone, no one will sue you if you don’t.
Just like there are various ways of painting; you can do it with watercolors, acrylic, or thermal paint. Public speaking too can be done in a way that you are most comfortable with.
A few styles that are used in public speaking are:
a. Memorized style
This form of public speaking requires the speaker to memorize the content. You may or may not be provided with cues or a transcript or and that is what makes the task tricky.
It is a very common method used in elocution, speeches, and even presentations.
b. Impromptu Style
This form of public speaking doesn’t require any set memorization on the part of the speaker. Rather it involves speaking on the spot about the topic. The speaker must possess enough information about the topic to come up with a speech in no time.
This style calls for a big challenge and that is the lack of time to ideate and structure.
This style can be used even in social settings when you are called to present a speech in your organization or even at a family event. This is also the style that is used in Toastmasters’ competitions on public speaking.
c. Extemporaneous style
This is the form of public speaking that sits comfortably between memorized and impromptu styles. The speaker doesn’t memorize the entire content but has adequate knowledge about it. During his/her speech or presentation they may use some cues or pointers to help them.
This is a very common practice while presenting. We are always told to keep the information on the slides to the point. While engaging in the extemporaneous style you may take a look at the pointers which might help you recall the information related to the point and you can go ahead with your presentation.
There are a lot of other styles of public speaking and it’s not limited to the three mentioned above. So go ahead and find your style!
2. Requires creative Imagination
For some people, art is anything that involves creativity. If we accept that definition, public speaking would easily prove to be art.
The very first step before you presents your content in front of the audience is to come up with your content.
Creativity begins when you come across that first thought that leads you to the topic for your public speech. It goes all the way to structuring your topic and then adding a few elements that are necessary like props for example.
And while this might seem like mundane tasks, it is what makes the audience decide whether or not they’ll be listening to your talk.
There is no set process of using your creative imagination while coming up with your speech or talk, there are a few things that you might find yourself tackling. All those things require you to use your creative imagination.
Let’s take the simple analogy of architecture here:
Before you even come up with a topic, your mind bombards you with several thoughts. These might be related to what information you would want to add or the sources you might want to check.
Essentially you collect information and jot down all the points you might want to add. It may be as detailed as the color of the suit you might want to wear during the event.
We call it the basement because first, it forms the base or the ground from where you build your building. In the case of public speaking, your final draft.
b. Constructing floors
Once you have all your information in hand, you then structure it. You decide on which points to cut. And then decide on the sequence in which all the points shall be spoken to make the most impact.
c. Beautifying your building
Once you have the basic structure of your building, you might want to beautify it by adding some paint. In public speaking, the paint could be any element that enhances your oral presentation. So if you choose to use some props or presentation, that would again involve using your creative imagination.
If you want a music-related example, Charlie Puth might be at your service. check out this youtube short in which he shows how he came up with his song ‘That’s Hilarious’ idea behind the song.
3. Mindful Artist
A mindful artist is someone who has a clear understanding of what is expected of him and what he expects from the art he produces. In simple terms having the right knowledge about yourself and the audience is what makes you a mindful artist.
This stems from your creative imagination.
Take an example of a jewelry artist. They might look into what their clients require, do they want a big ring or a small one, antique or modern? They might accordingly come up with a design they are sure they would be able to make and present it to their client.
Similarly in Public speaking the speaker tries to have a surface guess of what their audience would be like and what they sort of information would they prefer. Then they would come up with a speech or presentation that best meets their guess and is also something they have enough confidence to perform in front of the people.
4. It is uniquely yours
You might want to adopt someone’s style of public speaking but it won’t make you that person and that is the beauty of any public speaking. Many great speeches are remembered by people all around the world. And through plays or movies, people might’ve tried to imitate the same speech but it can never be the same as the one spoken by the original speaker.
To take an example from another form of art; Can you try to guess how many people have tried to make Vincent van Gogh‘s The Starry Night painting?
I am not sure if we can come to a number. And that is the case because so many people have attempted their hand to make a similar painting. Yet everyone remembers the original painting and the great artist. It’s almost like an NFT. while there is a 100% chance that people might try to adopt parts of your speech or even your entire presentation, it still won’t be the same.
So you can free yourself from brutally comparing your public speaking skills with that of others.
5. Offers takeaways
Have you ever been to a concert and half-heartedly listened to the opening performance only to realize that they were playing some good songs you had never heard of? You might shazam it or add it to your Spotify or Apple music. And while that might be a poor example, a takeaway is something that makes you go back to the artist.
Every speaker would want to give their audience something to remember. And while it is absurd to expect that your audience will remember your entire presentation, you can make sure that they remember just enough parts of your presentation to come back to it.
So, what are some of the takeaways you can offer?
It can be anything from a quote, a game, an unusual prop that you used, or even your presentation. The idea behind this is to use such things which easily stand out. It is thus easier to remember.
Some of the takeaway examples would be:
a. A quote or a phrase
Now when we say a quote or a phrase, we mean one that is uniquely yours and not stolen from someone else’s speech. This doesn’t mean that you cannot quote other people. But coming up with your unique phrase or quote makes it different and hence something to pay attention to.
b. An unusual prop
The use of props makes it very easy for your audience to understand a concept that would otherwise be challenging to understand. When it comes to props you can go all out provided it doesn’t make it more difficult for others to understand.
But one particular Tedtalk that made use of simple props to break the age-old stereotype is what you might want to look at.
Again, presentations also aid in an easy understanding of the topic. And while we can conveniently make one on PowerPoint, what it might lack is uniqueness. There are thousands of people using the same templates, the same fonts, and maybe even the same images. It won’t be a takeaway in that case. When you add that hint of creativity, that’s what we are talking about.
A simple presentation that catches the audience’s attention and, in my case, proved to be a takeaway was the one by Tim Urban on the mind of a serial procrastinator
This doesn’t mean that you need to deliberately try to fit some elements.
6. It Might give you a new perspective
As we discussed any art form has many interpretations. Public speaking too can be interpreted in different ways but different people. This would suggest that because of such diverse views, your views are bound to change.
Let’s take the example of the most recognized art in the world, the Mona Lisa. It is widely believed that Mona Lisa is the portrait of the wife of a Florentine merchant. However, recent interpretations suggested it be a portrait of Leonardo’s partner. This gives you a very different perspective. Believing which stance or a third one is completely your choice.
At the time we form our opinion on a topic we might have limited information about the same. Through the speech or presentation, the speaker either introduces new information or adds to the existing knowledge of the audience.
This is one of the reasons why it is always suggested to put both sides of a story in front of the people when speaking on a topic. Or even try to be diplomatic. As any heavily-sided view has the power to fabricate people’s opinions on the topic.
7. There are hundreds of ways to interpret it
To be honest a hundred ways might be an understatement. It is one’s observation and reflection that turn anything into art.
So, when you are speaking in front of a thousand people, each individual will have their own way of reflecting on the information. And it is not necessary that their view will be in line with the way you intended to present the information.
You can try to clear the misunderstandings in one of the following ways
- Giving them your contact so they can reach you and clarify their doubts
- Open yourself for a question-and-answer session after your talk
- Give a summary of what you said
- Paraphrase the statements you feel might be misinterpreted
But again you can never be too certain that everyone in the room would have reflected content in the same manner.
This is very common in every art. If we take poems for example, on quite a few occasions we might be misinterpreting what the poet intended to write. It can be because of the ambiguous comparisons made in the poem. It can also be because every individual has his or her unique ways of experiencing the world which makes them reflect on everything differently.
How 3 animators interpreted the same Whitman poem in different ways throws light on the example given above
8. It might be a getaway to immortality
Immortality might not be used in an exaggerated way here. We have all heard and learned about the great personalities and their famous speeches. Like Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech where he said “I have a dream” while addressing racial discrimination in the USA. Or when John F. Kennedy during his inaugural speech said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
These words have stayed with us even after years of great leaders not being around us. What their speeches gave to the people at that time was an emotional connection. Be it hope, a sense of unity and equality, and strength. These words like the great pieces of art would be remembered among people even after generations would have passed. And hence it remains immortal.
Here we should also consider that not all public speaking instances would make it reach this stage but it sure does carry the potential to be remembered.
While there are no ladders to reach the epitome of the art of public speaking, improving is the essence of enhancing your art.
Any art form can be excelled in at your own unique pace. The things that your need would be as we said practice and feedback.
There are three ways in which you can try to improve your art of public speaking:
a. On your own
Improving in public speaking can be done on your own as well, with some help from family and friends. You can practice the speech or presentation by recording yourself on your mobile. The recording can then be used to evaluate how you are doing. You can also share it with your family or friends and ask them to give you their honest opinion. It might guide you to improve in those specific areas. It however carries 2 major limitations:
- When you don’t have a clear understanding of your style or the basics of public speaking, the inputs might not be as effective.
- There is a possibility of your friends and family giving you a more fabricated opinion which would again limit your ability to improve.
Consider checking out this video to help you improve public speaking on your own!!
b. Through Courses
With several courses available online that help you identify and improve various aspects of public speaking, you can choose any that suits your requirements. The courses overcome the challenges that you might face in trying to improve on your own.
If you are looking for a handy app, check out TED Masterclass for the same. It is available on the play store or the app store.
The only limitation of courses could be the limited feedback. Limited feedback may stagnate your ability to master the art of public speaking.
c. Through Professional help
Seeking professional help is what will bridge the gap that courses on public speaking can’t.
When you consult a professional for your public speaking skills, you can expect to be guided on the aspects covered by most of the courses along with someone who provides you with constant feedback. Feedback is what makes you understand whether or not you are making any progress. It also helps in improving those areas to better yourself in public speaking.
If you are looking for such professional help to guide you through the art of public speaking, schedule a free consultation at Public Speaking and Presentation
That brings us to the end of the blog.
Public speaking is an art that caters to the audience’s auditory and intellectual aspects.
Just like any other art, Public speaking is not restricted by any rules. You as the speaker are free to choose your topic and your style of communicating. It is an art that has survived some great leaders.
No one expects you to be THE BEST at public speaking because, to be honest, even the sky isn’t the limit.
So pick the mic, your art is waiting to be heard!