Guide to Public Speaking

The Ultimate Guide to Public Speaking

Knowing how to communicate effectively is fundamental for both our personal and professional lives.

Speaking in Public is challenging for many people, as some are timid and insecure, or simply require more experience in speaking in front of others.

In this article, you will learn about the basics of public speaking, common speaking challenges that people have, how to address those challenges, and key tips on how to structure your delivery to make your speeches more successful.

Let us start our Guide to Public Speaking with a bit of history. Further along, we will address the importance of communication elements, and we will also bring relevant information on how to use language and structure a public presentation.

The Art of Public Speaking – Origin and Meaning

Oratory or public speaking originated with the need people had to defend themselves from the attacks of the tyrants of Syracuse, thereby meaning a way of setting social justice and a ticket to freedom of speech.

According to Lopes (2000), the art of public speaking comes from Greek origins; the city of Athens was the most crucial center of oratory studies both in rhetoric and eloquence.

In the 5th century BC, with concern for the mastery of the verbal expression arose the oratory in Greece. At that time, ordinary citizens would be usurped of their property and other rights. Only the clergy and high society people would be allowed to reverse social and political situations.

However, with Aristotle, public speaking found fertile ground for its development in his most ancient work on oratory entitled “The Art of Rhetoric.”

Aristotle book refers, respectively: 

  1. The line of argument to be followed by the speaker;
  2. To teach how the listener learns the ideas;
  3. The exposition of the structure of the discourse and its parts.

What is Public Speaking?

Public Speaking is an exposition of ideas prepared in an organized way, and that should always be composed of some essential characteristics concerning the organization of thought and reasoning.

Bloch et al. (2002) point out that public speaking expresses what we feel, communicates what we think, and exposes the facts as effectively as possible.

 Your audience can be from the child to the most evolved scientist who can absorb what you say.

Guide to Public Speaking

7 Elements of Speech Communication

1. Emitter/ Speaker

The emitter is the person who wants to deliver a message to a particular group of people or individuals; in public speaking, the issuer is known as the speaker.

Factors to be considered:

  • Motivation – The presentation can be made to provide/obtain information, to convince the group about a new idea, to “sell” a service, to present results, or to persuade about an argument;
  • Credibility – The degree of acceptance of the message shall be directly proportional to the knowledge of the speaker on the subject;
  • Performance – Correct use of verbal expression and non-verbal communication with others.

2. Receiver/ Audience

The person or group of persons situated at the other end of the communication chain receives the message and interprets it internally, manifesting this interpretation externally.

The receiver goes the other way, that is, part of the signifiers until reaching the intention of signification.

Therefore, the mapping of characteristics of the target public shall include all attempts to obtain as much information as possible about it: number of persons present, sex, age, race, profession or function in the undertaking, training, level of education, knowledge of the subject to be dealt with, relevant background and expectations or needs.

3. Target/ Content

The content or target is the link between speaker and audience; the object of communication; translation of ideas, objectives, and intentions; the message shall be organized in terms of:

  • Content – refers to what will be said regarding a specific subject, and the first step is to define the purpose of the presentation; 
  • After that, having in mind the main characteristics of the audience and the time available, one should select the most important ideas that will be presented, that is, prioritize the relevant arguments.

4. Structure

The structure concerns the organization of the message. A well-organized message presents everyone its elements connected logically with each other;

When organizing the content, it is essential to divide the presentation into three parts: i) introduction (attractive and inviting), ii)  a body (concise, clear and coherent), and a conclusion (emphatic and brief);

5. Codes

The codes are a set of rules combined to generate understanding; the audience will identify this sign system, performing the decoding operation, only if its repertoire is typical of the issuer.

Language is the code most used to establish communication since it is the social agreement of language made by a particular society.

The code is also a set of signs and signals used to transmit the message: verbal language, non-verbal language, sign language, colors.

 If the speaker fails one of these elements, the message may not be delivered properly, and there is no communication.

Therefore, it is vital that you thoroughly analyze your target audience to make sure that they understand the set of codes you choose.

6. Channel 

The channel functions as a “vein of circulation” of the message, which means the pathway chosen by the sender/speaker to which the message is handed.

When making a presentation, the message can be transmitted in different ways: visual gestures, body movements, facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, variation of height and vocal intensity, and manipulation of objects.

7. Place

Whenever possible, it is crucial to know the location of the presentation in advance; in this way, some amendments it deems necessary can be removed.

By getting to know the environment you will be delivering your speech, you can plan each movement in the room, reduce the anxiety, the correct position of the equipment, the use of the microphone, etc.

“When troops move, it is essential to know the conditions of the land first; when you know distances, you can draw up direct or indirect attack plans. The understanding of where the battle will be braked shall indicate where they should concentrate or subdivide the forces.

Sun Tau

5 Things to Consider when Structuring and Delivering a Public Speaking

1. Who is the speaker?

The speaker must know his natural communication behavior, if he speaks little, likes to communicate, has the habit of reading, is reserved or outgoing, so the speaker will know when his linguist skills are or will need to be further explored.

For speech skills to be improved, it is necessary to stimulate the habit of reading, producing texts and performing interpretations of written materials.

Reading aloud and recording the production of speech may also help to know about one’s evolution, deficiencies, and potentialities.

2. Who is the audience?

The speaker refers to the listeners/audience of the message, so the success of the speech is determined by the listener’s understanding or by the action that the experience will generate.

To guarantee that the message is accurately delivered to the audience, it is necessary to adjust the speech to the level of instruction and the current situation of the listener.

And that is determined by how you present the content starting from the structure to the tools you use to deliver it; also, the audience can become more attentive to receive the message have some prior knowledge of the subject.

Communication becomes effective only if the interlocutor can understand the message.

3. What is the message being delivered?

Refers to the content and type of speech; however, the content is always involved in the service of a determined intention. For a purpose, the communication becomes meaningless if it fails to convey the subject.

4. Why is this message important?

What drives you and makes this message crucial to this crowd you wish to face and deliver it?

The Cruciality of a message has to do with the impression made to the listener after the message is transmitted. This effect to be produced when a speech is concluded must directly connect with the action intended to generate as a response.

5. Tools

Refers to the channel through which the message will be transmitted, being auditory, visual, or both, if it will be necessary to use more audiovisual resources, including microphone, multimedia, and others.

To know which resources will be most effective in the relevance of the message transmission takes into account, among other things, the distance between speaker and listener.

Inappropriate channel selection can lead to ineffective communication. The speaker should ask himself if the message he wishes to spread would be better understood if it was written or spoken, don’t forget about visual impacts.

Did you know that pauses during a speech create a feeling of suspense? A more attentive environment is built from a short crease, and the audience gets ready to receive what you will be saying, so using it share a key message from the content you have prepared.

  • Being able to emphasize what one wants to say, providing explanative intonation can also manifest surprise, admiration, or irony; 
  • The fluency and speed of speech present logical thinking and chained ideas, the use of more than one question mark in an interrogative phrase characterizes a question difficult to answer.

Thus, the use of these resources with balance and variety can confer the speaker’s naturalness, expressiveness, and attitude with the text emitted of greater understanding of the subject by the listener.

Imagine a doctor (speaker) who uses technical language to explain how a symptom a patient (listener)  has may turn into a dangerous disease if not taken care of and because he doesn’t master the language (content), he leaves there confused and not understanding how important it is that action is taken.

In such a case, the speaker:

1) Did not assess who the receiver of the message was;

2) Did not adapt the content to its listener;

3) Did not evaluate the intention of the message.

  • Its essential point is to assess whether the receiver understands the message;
  •  Check, whenever possible, by asking questions about what you exposed until that moment or asking him to recall the point’s central issue.
Public speaking fear, overcome fear

Public Speaking – Fears, blockages, and barriers

The art of speaking well in public , for some, is considered a gift. However, many who do not possess any favor of nature can overcome barriers and become excellent speakers.

Blockages, barriers, tension, and nervousness will always exist, either for beginners or those who already have experience in public speaking.

There’s no getting better if we are not aware of these public speaking barriers.

5 Reasons why you Fear Public Speaking 

Unsuccessful Experiences 

You may have an experience of public speaking and for some reason didn’t go as expected, which creates in you the false idea that will always give wrong.

The past is the past and does it right; you have to know the wrong steps; remember that people you may know as great speakers did poorly before that would be the example of Mahatma Gandhi.

In 1889, while working as a young lawyer, Mahatma Gandhi froze before a judge and ran out of court, feeling humiliated. “My head was spinning, and it felt like the whole court was doing the same,” Gandhi wrote in a letter.

He called this feeling “the terrible strain of public speaking.” And that’s kept him from even talking at dinners between friends. 

When Gandhi decided to dedicate himself to a cause and wanted to convey a message he considered essential profoundly, Gandhi found the motivation he needed to overcome fear. 

Lack of Experience

When you do not practice something or do it a few times, you don’t create space for your brain to build learnings, preventing the development of skill, in this case, public speaking.

Cognitive psychologists say that the learning process is a systematic and active process that associates new information to the knowledge we already have on a subject, exploratory and creative.

The billionaire Warren Buffett was terrified of speaking in public early in his career. He attempted to take an oratory course, but he gave up out of fear; however, he was very aware that it would be essential to succeed.

Then, in his second trial, Buffett won a diploma that he boasts with great pride; in his documentary “Becoming Warren Buffet,” Buffet stated:

“In my office, you will not see the degree I got at the University of Nebraska, and you will not see the master’s degree I took at Columbia University. But you’ll see the certificate I received from the Dale Carnegie Course.” 

Warren Buffett


Many psychologists describe perfectionism as the need to set high and rigid standards for oneself; a perfectionist follows a series of conduct requirements, created especially for himself, and makes constant self-evaluations.

Excess self-criticism when delivering public speaking may prevent you from seeing any action you do with empathy and can also degrade your self-esteem, which is crucial to standing in front of a podium.


Social anxiety corresponds to the difficulty the person presents in interacting socially, for example, speaking in public. It comes from the fear of being judged, feeling humiliated, or that other person may notice their weaknesses.

Symptoms of anxiety and nervousness are typical when they arise before or during a job interview or in a presentation. 

However, when symptoms arise in various situations, especially when you are around other people, it can be a sign of social anxiety disorder, and the person should seek psychological treatment.

Negative self-image

Your self-image is basically how you see yourself, and it’s your internal photography that shows itself to others. And how do you measure the impact of your image on those who hear you?

If you see yourself as someone who can’t do an outstanding performance in public, you probably can’t do it.

If perhaps you said something wrong at the time of school and your classmates laughed at you, you may today be afraid that others will laugh again at what you have to say.

Note that these problems directly influence your ability to speak in public. And that if you change the way you look at yourself, you will significantly improve your potential to express yourself in large groups.

3 Strategies to reduce fear before and during a Speech

Focus on breathing

A simple exercise to improve breathing is standing with your legs ajar in a posture that bodyweight is proportionally distributed in your two legs.

Place your hands on the waist and fill the lungs with air slowly, then release the air slowly with your mouth half-open.

 Repeat the exercise several times until you feel relaxed; this is a good exercise before starting a presentation.

Practice in a safe place (home or with friends)

One of the most effective ways to deal with the fear of public speaking is to practice a presentation in advance. Set the central points of your speech and set up a schematic to remember them all. After that, practice your exposure alone as often as necessary.

Prefer low lights

To reduce anxiety or any fear during public speaking, you can choose to dark the place a little bit to mitigate your excitement and keep your mind clear, and the audience focused and comfortable.

There is one more benefit to having dim lighting; the public laughs more.

 Comedians prefer a “poorly lit space,” Peter Mcgraw and Joel Warner described in their book The Humor Code, which seems to “help people feel more protected and thus less inhibited in laughing.”

5 Tips to Win a Crowd Over when Speaking in Public

One of the concerns of a speaker must be to please the audience. If you’ve done a previous study of the type of audience you’ll talk to, and you’ll undoubtedly know how to behave. Meet some challenges to get the viewer’s attention:

1. Be Truthful and Care about the Audience Experience

Do everything so that your professional qualifications and experiences do not demonstrate exhibitionism. Greet everyone with courtesy and issue honesty and professionalism. 

Another way of putting this would be – try your best to be charismatic.

2. Use a simple language

Your first strategy is to employ simple language so that your text becomes clear. The choice of words can create intimacy with the receiver and make your speech more pleasurable.

Beforehand knowing the audience to whom you will perform, it will be possible to plan how you will speak and what words to use.

It is essential to mark the vocabulary to be used considering the minor present education level.

3. Instill curiosity in the audience

Cite a fact or ask a question that makes them curious; when it’s time to deliver a speech, always give them new data to support the fresh perspective you want them to get to know.

4. Turn your text into a story

Generally, we will deal with matters related to reality, to a fact-specific, experienced, or relevant to society. In such a case, turn your theme into a story of your or other people and structure it with the same narrative techniques.

See the problem in the subject, what will give life, and arguments to your text. Count as the facts occur, its most critical points, and then conclude. 

People usually enjoy storytelling, especially if they are personal experiences related to a subject that is concerning to them it turns the presentation more engaging to them. 

5. Know when to change strategies

Notice the extent to which you are pleasing or not if you observe any tiredness movement (people getting up, yawning, talking).

Change your strategy, be more succinct, and instill the participation of all.

Changes in intonation in the course of speech and the use of audiovisual or dynamic resources, too, are usually good strategies to maintain the audience attentive to your presentation.


Public speaking can be difficult if you get familiarized with pitching ideas and sharing your notes and research with unknown people.

However, once you get in it and allow yourself to fail, keep learning and be open to practice and share the knowledge, you learn it quickly.

References and Further Reading

10 Tips for Improving Your Public Speaking Skills.

AcethePresentation. 13 ways to overcome public speaking anxiety.

AcethePresentation. AmadeBai, Emidio. What Makes A Bad Public Speaker? Top 10 Worst Traits To Avoid

High Spark. The Ultimate Public Speaking Guide To Impress Any Audience.

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