Chapter 1: The Speech Communication Process

What do we mean by Public Speaking?

Before we go any further, though, what do we mean by “public speaking?”

The most obvious answer is “talking in front of a group of people.” For the purposes of this class and this book, public speaking is more formal than that. Public speaking is an organized, face-to-face, prepared, intentional (purposeful) attempt to inform, entertain, or persuade a group of people (usually five or more) through words, physical delivery, and (at times) visual or audio aids. In almost all cases, the speaker is the focus of attention for a specific amount of time. There still may be some back-and-forth interaction, such as questions and answers with the audience, but the speaker usually holds the responsibility to direct that interaction either during or after the prepared speech has concluded.

Garber (2010) cites two scholars of public speaking from the early 20th century, Edwin Du Bois Shurter and James Albert Winans, who wrote of public speaking as an “enlarged conversation,” and as such it has some similarities to conversations but some major differences, too. As a conversation, it has elements of:
• awareness of and sensitivity toward your audience (in this case, more
than one person);
• an exchange of explicit messages about content (facts, ideas, information) and less explicit ones about relationship (how you relate to
one another, such as trust, liking, respect);[this content/relationship dichotomy will come up again in this book and is characteristic of all communication];
• a dependence on feedback to know if you are successful in being understood (usually nonverbal in public speaking, but still present);
• the fact that the public speaking communication is (almost always) face-to-face rather than mediated (through a computer, telephone, mass media, or writing).

As an “enlarged conversation” public speaking needs to be more purposeful (to entertain, inform, or persuade); highly organized with certain formal elements (introduction and clear main points, for example); and usually dependent on resources outside of your personal experience (research to support your ideas).

Of course, the delivery would have to be “enlarged” or “projected” as well— louder, more fluid, and more energetic, depending on the size and type of room in which you are speaking—and you will be more conscious of the correctness and formality of your language. You might say, “That sucks”
in a conversation but are less likely to do so in front of a large audience in certain situations. If you can keep in mind the basic principle that public speaking is formalized communication with an audience designed to achieve mutual understanding for mutual benefit (like a conversation),
rather than a “performance,” you will be able to relate to your audience on
the human and personal level.


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Fundamentals of Public Speaking by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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