Why Public Speaking is Important
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Public speaking is one of the most under rated skills learned in school, yet is one of the most valuable. The way you communicate shows a lot about you, and can influence other’s opinions of you. In every profession communicatiis important. Good communication skills, no matter what you plan to do in life, will help you out greatly and improve your chances against a harsh job market. I am majoring in Business Administration and Law, and communication is one of the biggest parts of business and law, yet communication is hardly ever taught in business classes for my major. I think that a communications class like public speaking, for example, should be not just for a college class, but taught in high school and middle school as well. I believe several classes would allow anyone to become an expert speaking. The only way to fully learn public speaking is to get up in front of people and talk to them. One can not learn public speaking from a book.
One’s career, school life, and even socializing are affected by communication. If you do not know how to communicate, you probably do not have many friends. Communication has been used since the days of the cavemen. When the cavemen learned to communicate they greatly increased their hunting potential. When they learned to communicate on the hunt and before the hunt, they caught much more game then when they were just randomly running after the animals with spears. In school, if teachers and students could not communicate well, how would anything ever get done? In a business, communication is the most important ingredient. Working at a corporation at a higher level, you deal with hundreds of important emails, meetings, phone calls, and other forms of communicating with your co-workers.
I like communicating with other people, and much of my life consists of me with my friends. Communicating with people is a good way to become social and comfortable around people. Public speaking is my least favorite part of communicating but I feel if I go into business, it will be one of the most important things to learn. If I have to give a big speech, it could be the first time several upper management bosses really hear what I have to say, and if I give a poor speech and look frightened, it could make them think I am incompetent and cannot communicate.
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According to Neher’s journal: Speech in the core, “The ability to express one's self verbally may become increasingly important in order to succeed in a competitive society.’’ Believe it or not, this journal was written in 1985, and Neher could not have been more right.
Out of all my schooling, I have never been required, or even had an option to take a public speaking class until I came to college. I have heard friends complain about having to take the class, but I figure that the class will help out greatly in my career, especially if I go into business. I think that speech should be introduced into high schools, and even middle schools, so that by the time most children get to college, they will already be good public speakers. This will benefit everyone in the job world, and will also just make everyday conversations better if everyone could communicate well. I feel that math, an extremely stressed subject for almost all majors, is not as important to most majors as communication is. The reason to establish younger children taking public speaking is that public speaking is different than most subjects; it is not like math, where you can learn from a book, the only way to learn public speaking is by standing in front of a group of people and talking to them. Also, enhanced communication skills would increase your confidence and perhaps even drive to succeed.
Public Speaking and communication courses are often underrated by students and others for their importance to one as a student, and in the future, as a worker. The class gives you fundamental skills that not only benefit you in the real world, but benefit you even when you are just hanging out with friends. My father has always stressed how important communication and public speaking are in business. He often has to give speeches to the CEO, president, and other upper level employees to him, and if he did not speak well, he would look like an idiot in front of these people, and probably not have a job. I realize how important communication is and hope I can improve on my public speaking in this class.
By far, the best way to learn how to write speeches is to read the great ones, from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, to Dr. King’s Mountaintop speech, to Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance address. But if you’re looking for some quick tips, here are a few things to bear in mind next time you’re asked to give a speech:
1. Write like you talk. There is no First Law of Speechwriting, but if there were, it would probably be something like this: a speech is meant to be spoken, not read. That simple (and obvious) fact has a few important (and less obvious) implications. Use short words. Write short sentences. Avoid awkward constructions that might cause a speaker to stumble. Tip: Read the speech aloud as you’re writing. If you do it enough, you’ll start hearing the words when you type them.
2. Tell a story. I once wrote speeches for a governor whose aide told me: speechwriting is about slinging soundbites together. That approach is a recipe for writing neither good speeches nor good soundbites. Whenever we sat down to discuss a speech for the first time, President Obama would ask us: What’s the story we’re trying to tell? Like any good story, a speech has its own narrative arc. For the President, it’s usually a slow warm-up, a substantive middle, and an inspirational end. That’s his style. Tell your story in whatever way feels natural. Tip: A good story can be a lot more powerful than the most compelling facts and statistics.
3. Structure matters. It’s usually harder to figure out the right structure for a speech – the order of the points to make – than the words themselves. The order of those points matters because an argument that’s clear and logical is more likely to be persuasive. There is a reason that some of America’s greatest speechwriters – from Lincoln to JFK’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen to President Obama himself – studied the law, a profession that values the ability to make a logical argument. Tip: Lists (like this one) are one way to impose a structure on a speech.
4. Be concise. It is said that Woodrow Wilson once gave the following reply to a speaking request: “If you’d like me to speak for five minutes, I’ll need a month to prepare. If you’d like me to speak for 20 minutes, I’ll need two weeks. But if you’d like me to speak for an hour, I’m ready right now.” As Wilson knew, it’s harder to be concise than verbose. But the best way to make a point is concisely, as Churchill did when he announced during a wartime address: “The news from France is very bad.” Next time you think you can’t afford to cut that paragraph you love, remember: the Gettysburg Address, perhaps the greatest speech in American history, is fewer than 300 words. Tip: Challenge yourself to cut as many words as possible from each sentence without losing the line’s meaning.
5. Be authentic. If you’ve ever given a speech, you’ve probably been told, “Just speak from the heart.” It’s not very helpful writing advice, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Once, when we were writing President Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention address, we got stuck on a certain section of the speech. The President advised us: Think about the moment we’re in, think about what the country is going through, and write something that feels true. It was a helpful reminder to stop focusing on polls and soundbites and simply say something we believed in as simply as we could. Tip: Sharing a personal story can help you find your voice and build a connection with the audience.
6. Don’t just speak – say something. When Michelangelo was tasked with painting the Sistine Chapel, he considered it a thankless job. He would have much rather spent his time sculpting than painting. But he used the occasion to paint perhaps the most revered fresco in history. So, the next time you’re asked to speak, don’t just write a speech, write a great one. A speech’s greatness has as much to do with its values as anything else. No one remembers the speeches of segregationists, though there were no doubt eloquent preachers spewing hate in the days of Jim Crow. No one remembers Hitler’s speeches, though few would dispute his oratorical prowess. Of course, Hitler, like the segregationists, lost. But it’s also because hope will always be more compelling than hate. It’s no accident that the best-known, best-loved speech in history – the Sermon on the Mount – is an articulation of humanity’s highest ideals. Tip: Before sitting down to write, get inspired by reading great speeches from collections like William Safire’s “Lend Me Your Ears.”
Adam Frankel is VP, External Affairs at Andela. Previously, he was Special Assistant and Senior Speechwriter to President Barack Obama.