The Art of Public Speaking

by Conna Walsh on September 26, 2017

This guest blog post was written by Rory Mondshein, who is currently a graduate student at the London School of Economics.

Jerry Seinfeld once said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death! Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!”

Mr. Seinfeld’s statement is rooted in statistical evidence.

Chapman University’s Survey on American Fears is an annual survey that studies Americans’ biggest fears. According to this statistically significant study, Americans are most afraid of public speaking, with zombies and ghosts ranked as the second and third biggest trepidations.  

Yet, Americans’ overwhelming fears reflect many misconceptions about public speaking, which is only exacerbated by the mainstream media.

In popular media, performance anxiety is a common trope. Some examples include:

  • In Archie Comics, Jughead heckles Reggie after experiencing performance anxiety.
  • In Harry Potter, Ron Weasley is terrified to play Keeper in public
  • On The Brady Bunch, Cindy Brady freezes on a gameshow.
  •  On Austin and Ally, Ally experiences trichtilomania at the thought of performing, and even destroys an entire set after being announced on stage.

When we are constantly bombarded with images and videos of everything that could possibly go wrong in public speaking, we associate the plot developments and character backgrounds with the actual experience. Considering its depiction in popular media, it is no surprise that Americans are more afraid of public speaking than the less likely event of supernatural world domination.  

Buying into these tropes, however, is both emotionally and financially detrimental.

According to Forbes, public speaking is one of the most valuable skills in the job market because it reflects good communications, negotiations, and marketing skills. In fact, billionaire, Warren Buffett even explained that public speaking skills could increase workers’ salaries by 50 percent in the long term because it adds to general marketability. In that sense, public speaking is more than just a punishment, and should be viewed as a valuable asset to advance your career.

For these reasons, I have decided to assist you with the basics in order to prepare you for any public speaking engagement.




Speech Preparation

In life, we are not always given the opportunity to prepare our speeches very far in advance; however, when we do get the chance to scribble ideas for 5 minutes, it is important to keep these themes in mind.

  1. Context

In many disciplines, including literature and public speaking, context refers to the background information for the rest of the story.

For our purposes, we must define context by the 5Ws Model, which includes:

  • Who are we talking to?
  • What are we talking about?
  • Where are we speaking? (Think about the UN body)
  • When are we speaking?
  • Why are we making this speech?

It is important for us to answer these questions in order to ensure that our speech is appropriate, and effective for our particular audience. Once we fill in the blanks, we can tailor our speeches to reach our audience, and achieve our objectives.

  1. Purpose & Ideal Outcome

After we have defined the scope of our context, we must inquire the reasons why we are making this speech. In other words, we must think about our goal — whether it is to inform or persuade — and contemplate the manner in which we can achieve it. For example, if our goal is to inform people, we must use statistical data, and appeal to the audience’s inner sense of logic; however, if we are trying to persuade them, we must appeal to their emotions in order to get them on our side.

Keep your purpose and objectives in mind, and tailor your speeches to achieve that particular outcome.


Speech Structure

Regardless of the kind of speech, there are three elements that every speech should have — the hook, the point, and the action.

  1. Hook

Imagine sitting in a conference for two hours straight: the session has been characterized by non-stop speaking, and every other participant has resorted to informal note passing about the evening activities. In this situation, participants are already preoccupied, and, therefore, less inclined to listen to the speeches, it is imperative to write an introduction that GRABS THEIR ATTENTION.

In public speaking, the Hook is used to get attention, introduce the topic, and establish credibility.

Some examples of a hook include:

  • Anecdote (personal story)
  • Quote
  • Rhetorical question
  • Statistic
  • Dramatization

With these tactics, the speaker is able to direct attention towards themselves, and work towards achieving their objectives.

  1. Point

Once the speaker has gained the necessary attention, it is important to state the point clearly and effectively in order to communicate the necessary information to the audience or persuade them otherwise.

  1. Action

In traditional public speaking, the speech ends with the call to action, which ties the entire speech together and often serves as a motivator for others to act. It is important to ensure that the audience knows the purpose of the speech, and is directed to the appropriate form of action.

Examples include:

  • Quote
  • Personal Story
  • Challenge

If these rhetorical devices are used to invoke a sense of logic, ethics, or pity, then it should be rather easy to get the audience to respond in a way that coincides with the overall objective.


In conclusion, public speaking may seem incredibly daunting, but it is easier when it is broken down into these tiny digestible pieces. If these steps are followed, you should have no problem making speeches in any situation!


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