If you can speak you can influence,
And if you can influence, you can change lives.
I had heard of this but it was in eighth grade that I understood the truism of this quote.
Mine was a typical school that had school assemblies where we gathered and prayed in the morning.
Post our shlokas (Chants in the Hindu Faith), we had a segment where we would have students come up and give speeches on various topics.
Those assemblies often used to be arid and colorless and honestly there are very few of them that I remember now that I am out of school.
There however is this one assembly that I remember distinctly. I was in eighth grade then and a junior of mine was to speak that day.
He got on stage, took a deep breath and began. He spoke for not more than five minutes but even now, eight years later, I remember his words.
That’s what good speakers do. They influence the way you think and perceive the world around you. This is what happened that day. He spoke about how as a community today we speak the colonizer’s language over our mother tongues.
Since then, every time I see a young child struggling to speak in their mother tongue or even when I struggle to find words in mine, I am reminded of his speech. This is the power of speaking.
While he was always a pleasure to talk to, that day when I saw him on stage, I realized that he spoke differently. He sounded more mature, a little less giggly, and it seemed he was there to make his point.
He spoke with conviction and with a certain charisma that ensured he encapsulated his audience.
That was the first time I realized that there is a difference between public speaking and casual conversation. Before I get down to exploring the difference between the two let’s begin with discussing what each of them means.
Public Speaking can be defined as the act of speaking to a group of people with the main aim of either persuading, informing or entertaining them.
Casual Conversation, on the other hand, can be described as a simple conversation where the people involved either exchange pleasantries or are catching up with what’s happening in each other’s lives.
In other words, a conversation that is completely informal and that doesn’t quite involve the need to prepare and speak. It’s those daily conversations that we have, with friends that we run into, the debates with our landlords when we return late after partying, and those talks with our professors when they catch us lurking on the campus during class.
There are a few factors based on which Public Speaking and Casual Conversation differ. They are
The use of language is perhaps the most striking difference between Public Speaking and Casual Conversation. In the case of a speech, there are a lot of factors that one needs to keep in mind while writing.
The tone of the speech (whether it is serious, funny, etc.), the target group of audience (whether it is a college classroom, a boardroom, the parliament, etc.) and the objective behind delivering the speech (whether to inform or to persuade, etc.).
There will be a different set of language tools used for each of these. The language used here is usually formal and devoid of stock phrases like ah, um, etc. and slang.
These ah, um, etc. are called filler words that need to be avoided. Read our article on Techniques to stop saying filler/stock words to better understand ways to reduce the usage of filler words.
Language Depends on the Audience in Public Speaking
One of the major determinants of what kind of language the speaker will follow will depend on the audience he/she is speaking to.
For e.g. If you are delivering a presentation in an engineering college, you will be required to speak with a certain engineering jargon.
If the same speech is being done in a setting where you will be speaking to school students who are aspiring engineers, the level of your jargon will be diluted.
If you are speaking to a group of non-engineering graduates your language will be completely simple.
Researching the audience before your speech is a technique that should be used to have a better understanding of the audience. To understand how to research your audience and what things to keep in mind while doing so, read our extensively written article on The importance of knowing your audience when delivering a speech.
Speeches, considering that they aren’t completely impromptu often lead the speaker to use better language.
Usually, speeches that are descriptive in nature will have a lot of adjectives that will invoke the faculty of visualization in the audience thus making it a memorable experience for them.
This is how language plays a very important role in a speech.
For e.g. I once heard a speech where the speaker spoke about how an all-boys classroom would often turn into a battle zone.
He used references from famous wars and a lot of military jargon to make it more palatable. As an audience member, it seemed that his descriptions had the power to teleport me on a battlefield.
That’s what I call the usage of the right words at the right places at the right time almost always yields the right effect.
Colloquialism in Casual Conversation
A casual conversation on the other hand is very different. Here, there is no preset writeup or points that the speaker must keep in mind.
These are often unforeseen and spontaneous conversations that sometimes require on-the-foot thinking.
The language in a casual conversation is what is called colloquialism.
Colloquialism refers to that style of language which is characterized by interjections, informal language, and an ever-dynamic lexicon.
Here, you will often find slang and simile used in the same measures. If it is a group of bilingual friends talking, there is a greater probability of them switching between languages too. However, the casual conversation also has certain rules.
A slight off-duty conversation with your senior or your boss is also a casual one but, you won’t be using any kind of slang here. In fact, you will also try to stick to one language and not change languages.
If it’s a conversation with an old neighbor or friend, you are most likely to speak in your mother tongue.
If it is a conversation about the kind of words you spoke when you were a child, you are most likely to use distorted forms of words and gibberish pronunciations.
For e.g. My family can’t get over the fact that as a child I couldn’t speak “daddy” and always said “daggy”. This is how casual conversations sound.
They have no structured use of language, most often languages are mixed and mashed together. There are figures of speech that are used but then they aren’t advanced. It usually consists of what springs naturally from the corpus of the speaker.
Structure of a Speech v/s Structure of a Conversation
In public speaking, as I mentioned above, there is a purpose associated with each speech. A speech is done either to persuade, inform or entertain.
As varied as the language and the delivery of all of these is, there is one similarity and that is of structure.
Any level of public speaking, whether it’s in school or at an organization like Toastmasters or at any class dedicated to teaching this art, lesson no.1 is understanding the speech structure.
A good speech has a tantalizing title, a buoyant beginning, a strong body and a conclusive conclusion.
A strong opener is very crucial in order to grab the attention of the audience. Read our extensively written article on 15 Powerful Speech Opening Lines and How to Create your Own.
Here is another article to help you start with a killer opener which is titled How to NOT Start a Speech (And What You Can Do Instead)
To leave the audience with some kind of influence is a sign of a good speaker. In order to better understand this, read our comprehensive article on 5 Ways to End your Speech with Maximum Impact
The Power of Three in a Speech
All public speaking masters will tell you that it is very essential to hold the attention of the audience for the first seven and the last seven seconds.
They will tell you to exploit the power of storytelling. Using three narratives and weaving them in a way that leaves your audience enthralled.
These happen to be nuances that make a good speech better and if done exceptionally well, memorable as well.
To learn more about structuring your speech, read our article on The Ultimate Guide to Structuring a Speech.
Subversion of Structure in Casual Conversation
These, on the other hand, work in no way in a casual conversation. In a casual conversation, there is often no structure. It starts off at some point and eventually ends up somewhere completely different. Haven’t we all had these moments?
A simple “what’s up” to a friend can end an hour later with the two of you reliving some old-school memories. Most of my family gatherings begin with discussions on current affairs and end up with my granny recounting funny anecdotes from everyone’s childhood.
That’s what casual conversations do. They work at touching your heart as opposed to most speeches which are aimed at educating you or influencing you.
What Constitutes a Well Delivered Speech?
Read our article on Body Language Guide to Public Speaking (The Dos and Don’ts) to know more about the correct body language that should be used on stage and what things to avoid.
It is rehearsed beforehand, and the stage movements literally choreographed and practiced. Most parliamentarians and other important speakers have speech coaches who work on every aspect of their verbal as well as nonverbal stylistics.
To learn ways to leave an impact on the audience read our extensively written article on Surprisingly Simple but Effective Ways to Practice for a Speech and get ready to nail your upcoming speech.
They are thoroughly trained in the art of effective delivery. We often see them speak with a certain conviction and passion. They can even from behind the podium effectively use their hands and voice to drive a point.
A casual conversation is completely different. Here, there is no boundary on the vocal variety. People often tend to, depending on the person they are speaking to, oscillate between being overly dramatic, dramatic and demure.
This is something I too am guilty of doing often. If you ever spot a crazy curly-haired girl sitting on a table and acting out her day to her roommates or shyly smizing and softly speaking her day out to her professors just know that both are me.
As a dancer, expressions and animations come naturally to me and it kinda bums me when I am asked to dilute them while speaking onstage.
But, on a serious note, we all have dramatic friends who channel their vocal variety and gestures and paint stories for us in a casual conversation. Here there is no stage and no speech coach checking your verbal and nonverbal stylistics. It often is all fun and games and over exaggeration and leg pulling.
The Dilemma of Delivering a Conversational Speech
Ever been in a situation where you have been asked to rehearse for your speech but still ensure that it sounds conversational (like how you would have a casual conversation)? Flummoxed?
Believe me, I am down a year and a half of Toastmastering and yet with every speech and every role I take up this is the only feedback I get. Like I discussed above, public speaking and casual conversations are very different but then each has its place.
Read our article on To Memorise or to NOT: A Public Speaker’s Dilemma to gain a better understanding of this public speaking conundrum.
I am by no means a professional speaker but, in my time of watching some amazing ones, I have learned one important thing.
This is a very delicate line and most often even experienced speakers tend to struggle to find it.
My mentor once broke this down for me. Let’s go step by step. There are three parameters that separate the two.
Language of the conversational speech
Let us begin with language. A good speech is one that has a good language. Agreed. However, one must understand that if you are someone whose language is exceptionally good then you might want to tone down.
Always remember the primary aim of communication is to drive your message into the minds of the listeners.
You must know your target audience and their level of language. If you use language that is above or below the median standard of the audience, you will run the risk of losing them.
This is what my junior in school did well. He spoke in Gujarati that day, but his language was so colloquial that it didn’t seem out of place to our ears and he kept us encapsulated all throughout.
Had he spoken in ornamented Gujarati he would have surely lost us since most of us wouldn’t have been able to understand it.
Remember to tap into the tools of language. It is very essential. If it is a descriptive speech, descriptive language is needed but understand that the words shouldn’t be too unheard of and big.
E.g. If you are to describe a monster you can use hideous in place of ugly but using gnarled might put off your audience especially if it’s a group of young school students.
Structure of a conversational speech
As far as structure goes, this is also very important.
Learn more about such seamless transitions by reading our article on Effective Speech Transitions: How to Make your Speech Flow.
However, if you are delivering a humorous speech understand that you can digress and use that as a device to generate a chuckle.
It is extremely important to understand the type of speech you are delivering and the audience.
If it is a group of children or young students, probably a digression can serve as an attention grabber should they have zoned out.
If it is a serious speech, like a President speaking about a national emergency, there should be no digressions. It should have clear concise language and a good structure to ensure that the audience doesn’t lose him/her.
Delivery is also just like the other two aspects. If one wants to create an impression they need to understand the type of speech and the audience they are speaking to.
If it is an informative speech like the one where the President is addressing the nation, there will be minimal stylistics used here. This is done to ensure that the attention of the audience doesn’t shift from the message.
If it is a speech that has stories and ups and downs, there will be a lot of delivery stylistics used here to ensure that the audience stays with the speaker.
It can get confusing sometimes but always remember the easiest way to battle it out is to understand the type of speech and the audience you are speaking to.
It is tricky to strike the right balance but then the only way forward is to keep doing it.
So, keep grabbing as many stage opportunities as you can get, whether big or small and try to strike a balance between formal and informal communication.
You will fall a lot more than you thought but then, there is no other way you will learn and master.
How is public speaking similar to everyday conversation?
Public speaking and everyday conversation are similar because both are done to inform, persuade or entertain the audience. Apart from these similarities, they are also similar in the following ways.
One of the similarities is that as a public speaker as well as a person engaging in everyday chit-chatting, you need to organize your thoughts in such a way that it is understood by the target audience.
The flow of thought from one conversation to another in everyday conversation and from one topic to another in public speaking is essential for better understanding among the audience.
For instance, a woman telling her daughter what to do must give an organized instruction in a chronological manner.
Verbal/ Non-verbal feedback
In a conversation or while giving a speech, it is crucial to be conscious of the audience’s reactions which could be verbal, facial or physical. Depending on the reaction of the audience, the speaker can tailor his/her message and make it engaging if it is not.
Tailoring a message in such a way that, the group being spoken to, is left perplexed and the impact of the conversation or the speech is negligible may not lead to the effective delivery of the message.
For instance, while talking to a friend on the topic of Netflix one can quickly identify if the person resonates with the topic. If the person doesn’t resonate with the topic then the replies would be laconic in nature and this would also be conveyed by their facial expressions.
Use of simple language
Another similarity is using simple language so that the content of the speech or the conversation is comprehensible. Using a lot of new words might make you look smarter but the audience might miss the actual meaning of your speech/conversation.
Public speaking and everyday conversation are similar in terms of the simple use of language, its organization of thoughts, and verbal/non-verbal feedback. However, the major difference lies in the use of language, structure, and delivery.
The major aim of both is imparting messages and keeping the audience engaged which shows the sign of a good speaker and a good conversationalist.
Hence, by keeping the above-mentioned points in mind, you can definitely have interesting chitchat with your friend. Moreover, an engaging speech is also very much possible by knowing the nitty-gritty of public speaking.
The next time you meet that particular friend or relative who is really good at small talk or someone who keeps you engaged in a speech, make sure to notice what makes them exceptionally good at it. Is it the language, the delivery or the structure?