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.
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.
2. The Message: Whatever a speaker communicates to someone else.
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.
5. The Feedback: The messages, usually nonverbal, sent from a listener to a speaker.
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.
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 an active listener:
- Resist distractions
- Develop note taking skills:
- Focus your listening:
- Listen for main points
- Listen for evidence:
- Listen for technique:
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.