What is public speaking and why is it important?

A quick description of public speaking

Public speaking is the act, or more appropriately the art of giving a talk to a group of people. This group can include friends, colleagues, managers or even customers.

Why do people want to learn how to speak in public?

There are many reasons why people want to learn how to speak in public. For some, their job relies on being able to communicate with efficiency whilst other people want to be able to debate in public. But there are many more benefits that come with giving speeches in public.

Most, if not all, speakers find their confidence grows with every talk they give. And that confidence can lead to other benefits including promotion in the workplace, starting your own business or, as in this case, finding the love of your life!

But for many people learning the art of speaking in public is a huge fear they want to squash.

Is a speech a type of public speaking?

Yes, a speech is a form of public speaking. Unless of course you’re creating a pre-recorded speech that will be played back to an audience, but these types of public speeches are still considered public speaking. The only difference is this: a pre-recorded speech doesn’t put you in front of a live audience and, as such, you’ll fail to develop the necessary skills required to become an effective and confident speaker.

Tips for anyone wanting to learn the basics of public speaking

I’ve been a public speaker for over 12 years now and have been speaking to schools, businesses and groups of people both large and small. Over that time I’ve learned many ways to overcome fear, improve my public speaking and make my speeches memorable. Here are a few tips:

  • Your speeches should also be constructed with your audience in mind. What this means is before you even start writing a speech think about what your audience wants and needs. Providing the right content is a guaranteed way for you to gain credibility and be invited back to give more talks.
  • Feeling stressed or anxious before you go on stage? Pick several places to focus on during your talk and as your speech progresses shift your focal point between each. I’ve written about how I overcame my fear of public speaking which dives deep into simple tools anyone can use to handle the fear and anxiety that many speakers feel. Whatever you do, don’t use that old and useless piece of advice that says you should imagine your audience naked as it reduces the respect you have for them and your speech will suffer as a result.
  • Hand movements are important as they allow you to place emphasis on key points and words in your speech, or talk. Use gestures that resonate with your audience and allow you to picture you actions you’re talking about.
  • Pacing. Understanding how to pace your talk is vital. When you’re speaking and you want to give your audience time to mentally digest your words, slow down. If you’re looking to build a rising tide of excitement, speed up.
  • Pauses are similar to pacing. They give your listeners time to think and allow you to consider your next words.
  • Don’t be afraid to free-wheel. Watch the reactions of your listeners and when you notice them leaning in, nodding, smiling, etc then take that journey a little further or go off plan.
  • Know your topic. Probably the most important aspect of public speaking, knowing your topic inside out gives you the freedom and flexibility to change your speech on the fly, or take your listeners along a different path.
  • Writing down your ideas when they come to mind. Keep a notepad handy, or save your thoughts as a voice recording on your phone.

Can learning the art of public speaking benefit my business?

Yes, having a good grasp of public speaking skills can greatly benefit your business and career. Take a look at how many CEOs, and C-level executives, engage coaches to assist in improving performance and you’ll see how important this skill is. Here are some examples of how public speaking can benefit you and your business:

  • CEOs improve their presentations and ability to communicate ideas, plans and hopes with colleagues and the teams they employ.
  • Mid-level managers are better able to share thoughts across the teams they manage.
  • Team members with a powerful and confident presence are better able to influence immediate colleagues and, equally important, to manage back up through and into company leadership teams.

Do I need a live audience?

No, absolutely not. If you’re creating a presentation that will be recorded and replayed, then there’s no need for you to give a speech to a live audience, but this defeats at least part of the idea of public speaking and the skills you need to be a success. Let me explain…

Public speaking is a curious mix of presentation, management of anxieties, and excitement. When you record a speech, with no audience in place, you remove some of the worries that plague speakers who step onto a stage to give what is in effect a performance. As a consequence, your skill set is missing vital components that will make you a truly effective and powerful public speaker.

If you want to be a speaker who commands presence, influences and is in high demand you need to build your confidence in front of a live audience.

How can I build speaking confidence fast?

There is no simple answer to this. For some people, the simple act of speaking in front of an audience will help improve their skills and crush fear and anxiety fast. Other speakers might fair better by working on individual components of their speech, tone, body language, etc, bringing them together over time to create a stunning presentation that wows the listeners.

The best way to build speaking confidence fast is to practice in front of an audience as often as possible. The people you choose may include friends, family or work colleagues.

If you’re really brave you have the option of going to a public space and giving an ad-hoc talk (this latter option is one that terrified me for a very long time). I live in the UK and there is one particular and very famous place in London where people go to share their message under the gaze of thousands – Speakers Corner. There are a number of similar locations around the UK, USA and the rest of the world.

How often should I practice?

Should you practice public speaking every day? No. At least, not all of your speech. For the best results break your speech down into chunks and practice each until you’re happy you can remember all, if not most, of the talk without having to refer to notes. When you recite each section, combine two and work through them. Keep going until you your speech is lodged in your memory.

Then go back and refine; add pauses, hand gestures, pacing, etc.

If this sounds confusing, here’s an outline of the process I used for a recent 30-minute speech:

  1. Plan. Ask yourself what your listeners want to know, learn or be persuaded of (more on this below). Make notes as you go. I recommend spending a lot of time on this part of the process as you want to deliver a speech your audience loves which will make them sing your praises and tell their friends about you.
  2. Outline. Create an outline of the speech with relevant headings. The important part of this stage is to keep it tight and outlining the talk will help you stay on topic – wandering off down rabbit holes will make you look unprepared and unprofessional.
  3. Make notes under each heading of your outline. Capture the most important parts of the message you want to share as bullet points.
  4. Expand your notes. Take each bullet point and turn it into one, or more sentences. At this stage, your speech needs to flow from one section to the next in order to keep your audience engaged.
  5. Break your talk down into manageable chunks and start practising. When I practice my speeches I learn them one heading at a time. For example, let’s say my introduction takes 30 seconds to say – I learn that section until it’s word perfect. Then I tackle the next section.
  6. Combine the sections of your talk. The next step is to combine sections. I do this after learning each one, then combining two and rehearsing them. For example, you are preparing a talk about the day a chance encounter with a stranger changed your life by making you realise you want to be a speaker. Your introduction takes 15 seconds and the second heading of your talk takes your listeners on a short journey along your life so far. Once you’ve mastered each section individually, combine them and practice again. This may sound like hard work but it’s not as you’re going through a rote learning process and your recall of the content of your speech improves with each practice.
  7. Walk through your entire speech until you can recite at least 80% of it. Whilst the best results will come from being able to recall your speech word for word, even having 80% of it in your head will ensure you stay on topic.

My how to practice public speaking guide goes more in-depth into this topic and includes many tips and techniques you can use to make your practices more effective.

How many types are there?

There are 4 types of public speech:

  • Ceremonial – given on a special occasion
  • Demonstrative – put simply, this means explaining how something works
  • Informative – involves passing information to your audience
  • Persuasive – when you want to influence your audience.

For more information, and examples of each of the 4 types of public speaking read this post. Informative talks are by far the most common we hear of and many motivational speakers sit in this category.

So, what is public speaking; a short answer

In simple terms, an oral presentation or speech is delivered to a live audience. There are other factors such as the use of props and visual aids which we’ll discuss in other posts.

How do you get into public speaking?

There are a number of ways you can start your journey, and progress in your new career – I’ve written a guide detailing how to get into public speaking.


Speaking to an audience is an important skill that brings a huge boost to your confidence, brings you a pay rise or promotion, and even makes you famous. But you need to have a firm grasp of the skills and practice them. For most people, giving a good public talk can feel bruising and painful but it really doesn’t need to be. I’ve put together a series of posts that will help build the skills you need to perform (because when you step up on stage you are a performer) at the very highest level.

The process is going to take dedication and practice, as any skill does. But follow the steps I recommend and you’ll soon be electrifying your audience.

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