Public Speaking: An Overview

Learning Objectives


15.1  Explain the importance of public speaking.

15.2  Identify the different types of speeches.

15.3  Identify the basics of good public speaking.

15.4  Describe the steps of speech preparation. 

15.5  Identify ways to overcome public speaking anxiety.




This chapter is designed, through the introduction of a “crash course” in public speaking, to help you become more comfortable with public presentation by stressing the idea that speaking, in all forms, is a natural part of who we are as humans. It also tackles the problem of speech anxiety and how to best overcome it.




  • Activity: Interview a Professional Career Councilor

Search the title Giving Employers What They Don’t Really Want. It will take you to a somewhat controversial article that appeared in the national newspaper for college professors and administrators, the Chronicle of Higher Education. Its central argument is that colleges are poorly preparing their students for career success because employers don’t want “technicians,” they want good communicators and critical thinkers. They especially want people who can speak and write well. Identify someone in your campus career services office and, with permission, send her or him the article. Then visit with that person and discuss how well your campus works to avoid giving employers what they don’t really want, especially as it pertains to good speaking skills.

  • Activity: For and Against

Do this with a friend. Search the Web or a newspaper for controversial topics-of-the-day, for example immigration reform, gun safety, raising the minimum wage, global warming, and so on. The more topics you can find the better. Write each one down on an index card, shuffle them, and place them face down on a table or desk. In turn, each of you picks one card and upon reading it you must deliver a 30-second argument for and then immediately after that, a 30-second argument against the issue. This activity helps you with impromptu speeches, increases your mental and verbal flexibility, and helps you see both sides of an argument, an important aspect of being a good persuasive speaker.

  • Activity: Tongue Twisters Plus

Do this activity with 3 friends, making a group of 4, to work on articulation, pacing, speech rate, and volume. Each group will have 3 speakers and one conductor. Find several tongue twisters (there are dozens at and write each one out on 3 index cards. Hand each speaker one of those cards, give him or her a moment to study it, and then have them read it in unison…repeatedly and at the conductor's direction. The conductor conducts the trio, making the speakers go faster, slower, louder, and quieter through several iterations of the phrase.




1.      Explain the difference between practicing and rehearsing. Define each. Which, in the opinion of the text, is the better option when preparing to present a successful speech?


Sample answer: There is a very clear difference between practicing and rehearsing. Rehearsing is performing the speech so many times it begins to sound mechanical, as if it’s being read rather than delivered. Practicing is performing the speech a few times and then putting it aside before returning to it later. Practicing is the better option because rehearsing the speech can result in the speech becoming too familiar, potentially causing monotony and a lack of emotional involvement transferred to the audience.


2.      Public speaking anxiety affects everyone. Define what this is. List the ways our nervousness may manifest itself. What steps can be taken to minimize its harm to a speech.


Sample answer: Public speaking anxiety is the fear of public speaking and is usually the most difficult obstacle to overcome for aspiring speakers. Nervousness can be manifested physiologically (increased heart rate, sweating, and dry mouth), cognitively (self- doubt, feeling unprepared, and forgetting), or behaviorally (long, unnatural pausing, twirling hair, and leg shifting). Some of the ways its impact can be minimized are: be prepared (do your research and practice), engage in vocal warm-ups (they relax the speaker and warm up the vocal chords), realize perfection is unattainable (errors are inevitable), convert nervous energy (use it to animate the presentation), determine your self-fulfilling prophecy (you’ll fail if you think you’ll fail), and engage in visualization (you’ll succeed if you visualize yourself as a successful speaker).

Go to the Source

Bodie, G. D. (2010). “A Racing Heart, Rattling Knees, and Ruminative Thoughts: Defining, Explaining, and Treating Public Speaking Anxiety.” Communication Education, 59: 70–105.

Dwyer, K. K., and M. M. Davidson. (2012). “Is Public Speaking Really More Feared Than Death?” Communication Research Reports, 29: 99–107.

McCroskey, J. C. (1970). “Measures of Communication-Bound Anxiety.” Speech Monographs, 37: 269–277.


Toastmasters is an organization dedicated to improving communication and leadership through effective public speaking. Its members meet regularly in one of the groups 14,000 local clubs to become better presenters.

The NSA is a professional speakers’ (those who do it for a living) organization. It provides resources and education designed to advance the skills, integrity, and value of the speaking profession of public speaking and presenting.

Better known as a philanthropic organization that brings together business people and community leaders, Rotary clubs also help their members improve their public speaking skills, primarily by practicing short speeches at their meetings. The group runs a well-regarded national public speaking contest for high school students.

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