Public speaking and how it should be judged

By Demion McTair. Updated 2:00 p.m., Sunday, September 27, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).

Discussion: What if I told you that public speaking is an art backed by solid scholarship?

Well, it is and those who do not understand the art of public speaking, no matter their other qualifications, have no business judging a public speaking competition.

The National Schools’ Public Speaking Competition is coming up soon and I am taking this opportunity as someone trained in communication to contribute some knowledge on what public speaking is and how it should be judged.

Firstly, I will go into what public speaking is, then I will highlight briefly the communication process in relation to public speaking. After those two first steps, I will speak about ethical listening for judges and audiences and then I will end by providing a university-approved judging template.

My main source to support my content is an academic book written by a communication scholar – Professor Stephen E. Lucas.

Public Speaking

We all need public speaking skills at some point in our academic, social, and professional lives. Whether it be for an oral class presentation, a speech to communicate on behalf of an organization, a speech to defend oneself, giving a toast at a wedding, or reading the eulogy at a funeral, the need to speak publicly will find us.

Brief history of public speaking

Public speaking, as an art, has been around for quite sometime. Lucas 2011 posits that public speaking “has been taught and studied around the globe for thousands of years”.

According to Lucas, the oldest known handbook on effective speech was written on papyrus in Egypt some 4,500 years ago.
“In classical Greece and Rome, public speaking played a central role in education and civic life. It was also studied extensively. Aristotle’s Rhetoric, composed during the third century B.C. , is still considered the most important work on its subject, and many of its principles are followed by speakers (and writers) today,” Lucas says.

Very important, is that today, there are strategies and methods, backed by research, that can guide any speaker on how to speak effectively and listeners of speeches as to how to listen effectively.

Speech-making is also tied to critical thinking. According to Lucas, this critical thinking involves “Focused, organized thinking about such things as the logical relationships among ideas, the soundness of evidence, and the differences between fact and opinion”.

Types of speeches

Broadly, speeches are classified as either informative or persuasive.

Informative speeches: speeches that inform about processes, events, people or situations.

Persuasive speeches: speeches that create, reinforce, or change people’s beliefs or actions.

Organization of speeches

There are several organizing methods to choose from when constructing a speech. These include topical, chronological, spatial, causal, problem-solution, among others. Regardless of the method of organization chosen, speeches have an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The method of organizing really influences the way ideas are presented within a speech.

Whichever organizing method used, Aristotle’s Ethos (credibility), Pathos (emotional appeals that connect), and Logos (evidence that appeals to logic) can be employed to enhance the organization of any speech, helping a speaker to connect well to his or her audience.

Methods of delivery

According to Professor Lucas, there are four (4) basic methods of delivering a speech: (1) reading verbatim from a manuscript, (2) reciting a memorized text, (3) speaking impromptu, and (4) speaking extemporaneously (carefully prepared, rehearsed, and presented from a brief set of notes).

Now that I have touched on what public speaking is, I will now move to explaining the communication process in relation to public speaking.

You may skip to the section on ethical listening for judges if you think that section is of more interest to you.

The Speech Communication Process

The speech communication process involves seven (7) elements that interact with each other. These are the Speaker, Message, Channel, Listener, Feedback, Interference, and The Situation. These elements are extremely important to know and pay attention to in order to understand what can be done (methods and strategies) at each stage for effective speech communication.

1. The speaker: The person who is presenting an oral message to a listener.

“Your success as a speaker depends on you —on your personal credibility, your knowledge of the subject, your preparation of the speech, your manner of speaking, your sensitivity to the audience and the occasion. But successful speaking also requires enthusiasm.”

– Lucas

2. The Message: Whatever a speaker communicates to someone else.

“Your goal in public speaking is to have your intended message be the message that is actually communicated. Achieving this depends both on what you

say (the verbal message) and on how you say it (the nonverbal message).

Getting the verbal message just right requires work. You must narrow your topic down to something you can discuss adequately in the time allowed for

the speech. You must do research and choose supporting details to make your ideas clear and convincing. You must organize your ideas so listeners can

follow them without getting lost. And you must express your message in words that are accurate, clear, vivid, and appropriate.”

– Lucas

3. The Channel: The means by which a message is communicated. When considering channel, ask yourself, how do I get this speech across? Will I use radio? Will it be televised, or will I deliver this speech directly in front of an audience?

4. The Listener: The person who receives the speaker’s message.

“Everything a speaker says is filtered through a listener’s frame of reference — the total of his or her knowledge, experience, goals, values, and attitudes. Because a speaker and a listener are different people, they can never have exactly the same frame of reference. And because a listener’s frame of reference can never be exactly the same as a speaker’s, the meaning of a message will never be exactly the same to a listener as to a speaker.”

– Lucas

“Because people have different frames of reference, a public speaker must take great care to adapt the message to the particular audience being addressed. To be an effective speaker, you must be audience-centered. You will quickly lose
your listeners’ attention if your presentation is either too basic or too sophisticated. You will also lose your audience if you do not relate to their experience, interests, knowledge, and values. When you make a speech that causes listeners to say “That is important to me, ” you will almost always be successful.”

– Lucas

5. The Feedback: The messages, usually nonverbal, sent from a listener to a speaker.

“In public speaking there is plenty of feedback to let you know how your message is being received. Do your listeners lean forward in their seats, as if paying close attention? Do they have quizzical looks on their faces? Do they shuffle their feet and gaze at the clock? The message sent by these reactions could be “I am fascinated,” “I am bored,” “I agree with you,” “I don’t agree with you,” or any number of others. As a speaker, you need to be alert to these reactions and adjust your message accordingly.”

– Lucas

6. Interference: Anything that impedes the communication of a message. Interference can be external or internal to listeners. There are several strategies to effectively maneuver around interference in order to effectively deliver a speech.

7. The Situation: The time and place in which speech communication occurs.

“Public speakers must also be alert to the situation. Certain occasions— funerals, church services, graduation ceremonies—require certain kinds of speeches. Physical setting is also important. It makes a great deal of difference whether a speech is presented indoors or out, in a small classroom or in a gymnasium, to a densely packed crowd or to a handful of scattered souls.”

– Lucas

Now that I have explored the all important speech communication process, I now turn to the subject of ethical listening for judges and audiences of public speaking contests.

Ethical Listening for Judges

There are four types of listening but only two are important in the context of judging a public speaking competition.

The four types of listening, according to Lucas, are – appreciative listening (listening for pleasure or enjoyment), emphatic listening (listening to provide emotional support), comprehensive listening (listening to understand the speaker’s message), and critical listening (listening to evaluate a message to accept or reject it). Only comprehensive and critical listening are relevant to this discussion.

According to Lucas, listeners (including judges) should:

  • Be courteous and attentive
  • Avoid prejudging the speaker:

As a judge or a listener to a speech, “your aim is to listen carefully to the speaker’s ideas, to assess the evidence and reasoning offered in support of those ideas, and to reach an intelligent judgment about the speech. If you prejudge a speaker—either positively or negatively—you will fail in one of your ethical responsibilities as a listener”. – Lucas.

  • Maintain the free and open expression of ideas
  • Don’t be diverted by appearance or delivery:

“Be willing to set aside preconceived judgments based on a person’s looks or manner of speech. Even though it may tax your tolerance, patience, and concentration, don’t let negative feelings about a speaker’s appearance or delivery keep you from listening to the message. Try not to be misled if the speaker has an unusually attractive appearance. It’s all too easy to assume that because someone is good-looking and has a polished delivery, he or she is speaking eloquently. Again, be sure you respond to the message, not to the package it comes in.

– Lucas
  • Be an active listener:

“Active listeners give their undivided attention to the speaker in a genuine effort to understand his or her point of view.”

– Lucas
  • Resist distractions
  • Develop note taking skills:

“Most inefficient note takers suffer from one or both of two problems: They don’t know what to listen for, and they don’t
know how to record what they do listen for
. The solution to the first problem is to focus on a speaker’s main points and evidence. But once you know what to listen for, you still need a sound method of note taking. Although there are a number of systems, most students find the key-word outline best for listening to classroom lectures and formal speeches. As its name suggests, this method briefly notes a speaker’s main points and supporting evidence in rough outline form.”

– Lucas
  • Focus your listening:

“Skilled listeners do not try to absorb a speaker’s every word. Rather, they focus on specific things in a speech. Here are three suggestions to help you focus your listening.”

– Lucas
  • Listen for main points
  • Listen for evidence:

“There are four basic questions to ask about a speaker’s evidence:
1. Is it accurate ?
2. Is it taken from objective sources?
3. Is it relevant to the speaker’s claims?
4. Is it sufficient to support the speaker’s point?”

– Lucas
  • Listen for technique:

Analyze the introduction: What methods does the speaker use to gain attention, to relate to the audience, to establish credibility and goodwill? Assess the organization of the speech: Is it clear and easy to follow? Can you pick out the speaker’s main points? Can you follow when the speaker moves from one point to another? Study the speaker’s language: Is it accurate, clear, vivid, appropriate? Does the speaker adapt well to the audience and occasion? Finally, diagnose the speaker’s delivery: Is it fluent, dynamic, convincing? Does it strengthen or weaken the impact of the speaker’s ideas? How well does the speaker use eye contact, gestures, and visual aids?”

– Lucas

Now that I have presented Lucas’ thoughts on ethical listening, I will now present a sample judging outline used by the Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy at The University of the West Indies for the course – The Art of Public Speaking.

Sample Judging Criteria Outline

In a subsequent article, writing effective speeches will be looked at.

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