Public Speaking and Nervousness

Public speaking is the process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners. The art and science of public speaking, especially in a North American competitive environment, is also known as forensics. The word "forensic" is an adjective meaning "of public debate or argument." The word is derived from the Latin forensis, meaning "of the forum." The sense of the word "forensic" that means "pertaining to legal trials" dates from the 1600s (Oxford English Dictionary) and led to the use of the word "forensics" in reference to legal evidence.

In public speaking, as in any form of communication, there are five basic elements, often expressed as "who is saying what to whom using what medium with what effects?" The purpose of public speaking can range from simply transmitting information, to motivating people to act, to simply telling a story. Good orators should be able to change the emotions of their listeners, not just inform them. Public speaking can also be considered a discourse community. It contains elements of a discourse community that exist in many mediums and forms that serve different purposes for society and business among other areas of communication. Interpersonal communication and public speaking have several components that embrace such things as motivational speaking, leadership/personal development, business, customer service, large group communication, and mass communication. Public speaking can be a powerful tool to use for purposes such as motivation, influence, persuasion, informing, translation, or simply entertaining.


Effective public speaking can be developed by joining a club such Rostrum, Toastmasters International, Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) or International Training in Communication (ITC) in which members are assigned exercises to improve their speaking skills. Members learn by observation and practice, and hone their skills by listening to constructive suggestions followed by new public speaking exercises. These include:

* Oratory
* The use of gestures
* Control of the voice (inflection)
* Vocabulary, register, word choice
* Speaking notes
* Using humour
* Developing a relationship with the audience

Professional trainers in public speaking (or presenting) are cautious about recommending these organizations as they are essentially amateurs commenting on amateurs. As such they can reinforce mediocrity or worse, carry on spreading incorrect or over-simplified ideas. Serious students of public speaking are advised to get professional training.

Using a forum such as Toastmasters to practice public speaking skills after receiving professional training is a time-tested approach to developing one's ability to speak well. It is difficult to really receive any formal training but, can still be taught and practiced by those seeking to improve their public communication skills. The organization is among one of the largest nationally recognized that specializes in the improvement and networking of effective communication skills throughout the world.

The new millennium has seen a notable increase in the number of training solutions offered in the form of video and on-line courses. Video can provide significant training potential by revealing to the student actual examples of behaviors to emulate in addition to verbal knowledge transfer.


Effective leadership almost always requires the skill of good public speaking, and this can often make up for a lack of other skills. Both Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King, Jr. were effective orators who used oratory to have a significant impact on society.


The fear of public speaking is called glossophobia. It is believed to be the single most common phobia — affecting as much as 75% of the population. Fear of oration is ranked even above that of death. As Jerry Seinfeld observes, "The average person at a funeral would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy." Many careers require some ability in public speaking, for example presenting information to clients or colleagues.

Public speaking and oration are sometimes considered some of the most importantly valued skills that an individual can possess. This skill can be used for almost anything. Most great speakers have a natural ability to display the skills and effectiveness that can help to engage and move an audience for whatever purpose. Language and rhetoric use are among two of the most important aspects of public speaking and interpersonal communication. Having knowledge and understanding of the use and purpose of communication can help to make a more effective speaker communicate their message in an effectual way.

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Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Public Speaking. The Official Guide to Public Speaking is Nancy Daniels. Public Speaking is speaking to a group of people in a structured manner with the intention to inform, influence, or entertain the audience. A good orator should be able to invoke emotion in their listeners, not just inform them.

Additional Resources covering Public Speaking can be found at:

Website Directory for Public Speaking
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Nancy Daniels, the Official Guide To Public Speaking