HomeAnalysisThe art of public speaking

The art of public speaking

In one of my recent installments, I intimated a little about public speaking fundamentals and, judging by the huge interest shown by followers of this column, I felt I should revisit the topic and get a little deeper on the subject for the benefit of many a reader out there.

People Management Issues with Robert Mandeya

Like I pointed out in the previous installment, public speaking is something many people dread. A few people seem to have a gift for it and the majority do not. But like any skill it can be learned and mastered. A good starting point is to stop talking at your audience and start delivering the message they need to hear.

On any list of top fears, the fear of public speaking is usually near the top. That is understandable. We often fear what we do not understand and/or do not have the skill to do. From all the public speaking and presentation skills workshops I have delivered, almost 100% of attendees (from graduate to chief executives have never received any formal training. There seems to be a global assumption out there that because we can talk, then we can speak. The truth is that that is a lie!

Comfortable with public speaking?

If public speaking frightens you out of your wits, then join the club. You are not alone. I used to avoid speaking at every opportunity. I was convinced there was always someone better than me to do it – real or imagined. When I was younger I was very introverted – if possible I would prefer not to even talk. Even now I do not talk much unless there is a compelling reason to do so.


Public speaking has a lot to do with confidence. We are more confident when we have the skill and get the encouraging feedback. It is like when you are first learning a skill pertaining to your hobby or, if you can remember, when you first learned to drive. A little encouragement and skill will keep you going as you grow and develop.

As you likely know, there are bad speakers and a few great speakers and all others in between. You have seen and heard them at meetings, seminars, conferences and sermons. The good ones you remember for all the right reasons. The bad ones you recall for all the wrong reasons. The majority of speakers make a cardinal error – they speak at their audience. They fail to communicate. Effective communication is two-way. Just speaking is like the loud speaker or public address system – loud, often unclear and full of unwanted information. Like Shakespeare would put it, there are some who use “high-sounding words signifying nothing.”

I recall a former chief executive presenting to a large group of business owners. When he finished his “speech” he came off stage oozing with pride. He asserted that he had really “nailed it”. I had the dubious privilege of delivering the feedback that the audience did not understand what he had said. As with many male speakers, sadly, he questioned their assessment. His ego rose up because his pride was too much at stake. What he missed was that he was the common denominator. He spoke at the audience, telling them what he wanted to say and what he wanted them to hear.

He failed in his preparation to truly understand his audience. He missed the point, so they missed his.

Great speakers

Great speakers understand that communication is two -way. They listen first to their audience so they can understand them — their hurts, feelings, issues, needs etc. Once they understand them, they create a message relevant to the needs, wants and desires of the audience. Then they will be understood.

Great speakers are craftsman.

To them speaking is more art than science, more message than information. Think Steve Jobs. Think Nelson Mandela.

Think Winston Churchill. I recently read a detailed article on Winston Churchill and his famous speeches. When he was young he was told he would never amount to anything as a speaker. Over the years he applied himself to the art of oratory. His public speaking developed because he mastered its art. His most famous speeches were the results of hours of preparation, edits and practice. On his actual final speeches he had notes on how to deliver a key word, phrase or paragraph. In Britain his speeches were war-winning catalysts.

Not everyone can deliver

How do you feel when the mail delivery van rolls up outside? If you are like me, I get curious, excited and expectant. You know when the messenger comes to your door or desk you have to sign for that item. When you sign you are saying you are the right person to receive it. Only then can you take ownership. No signature; no delivery.

Great speakers are great messengers

They know their role is to serve and not be served. As with the delivery officer, great messengers have a particular message that is specifically for your benefit. Unlike a speaker whose focus is all about themselves, a messenger’s focus is all about the recipient — the audience. No ego in sight. It is all about making personal impact.

When it comes to public speaking, it isworth keeping in mind that communication is the response you get. If your audience does not get your message, you did not communicate, you spoke. And no one likes to be spoken to. If you get the response you were seeking from your audience, then you delivered. Everyone wants to feel they matter and are special. With public speaking, you must always keep that in mind. You must prepare in such a way that whether you are speaking to one or hundreds of people, each person in the audience will think you are addressing your message specifically for them.

To be a great speaker or, rather, messenger, takes time, skill, practice, confidence and humility. It will not happen overnight, but when you focus on the right things consistently, you will get there.

Public speaking is not for the faint hearted. But it is far easier when your focus is not on you but on delivering the right message for the audience. When you are a messenger you will show you listened, show you learned, show you care and show you understand. So the next time you speak, deliver a powerful message rather than a loud speech.

Mandeya is a an executive coach in human capital development and corporate education, a certified life coach in leadership and professional development at the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on lead.inst.dev@gmail.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading