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Why Public Speaking?


Alan Monroe asked the obvious: Why do you think the president of the United States speaks to the nation rather than merely issuing a written statement? I know I was surprised after the invention of the cassette tape recorder what a powerful instrument it turned out to be. After all, if you have a set of ideas you want to communicate, a written paper can lay it all out in order. A person can read it more quickly than he can listen to a speech, and it is much easier to analyze. Later, I found myself wondering why people wanted video tapes when all the information was right there in the audio tape.

The answer to Monroe’s question is obvious when you think about it. All the information is not there in a written or aural presentation. This becomes very obvious in an exchange of E-mails. It is so very easy to be misunderstood because the E-mail contains none of the extra information provided by tone of voice and verbal inflection.

Communication between people contains a wealth of information beyond the raw words they use. Statements that make perfect sense when spoken can become confusing when written down. So much depends on how you say it. Body language is subtle, but understood by all at a basic level. We can tell by a persons movements if he is nervous or defensive. Most of the time we don’t think about it, but we know.

The pacing of a statement made orally can convey a meaning all its own. Is this the most important thing the speaker has to say, or is he throwing away the lines. I was listening to an inexperienced speaker some time ago and I notice that when he read the Bible, he rushed through the scripture reading. The rate at which he spoke said, "Let’s get through this as quickly as possible so I can go on with what’s important." It is very common for speakers to lose expressiveness when reading aloud. And in fact, if you are reading something into the record, be it Scripture or a quotation from someone, it needs to be framed and delivered with special care. If you throw it away, the audience will tune you out.

It is a fact that an audience will hear less than half of what you say. They may stop mentally to think about your second point and miss the third. Or they may be annoyed by a crying child and lose their concentration. Or they may just drift away to something else entirely. If you doubt this just listen to people talk about the advantages of listening to a cassette tape the second time. Inevitably, they hear stuff they missed the first time through.

So give special attention to interpretive reading. You need to read more slowly than you speak and with more inflection and expression. Pauses, pacing, varied loudness are all important in making sure the audience grasps the significance of what you are reading.

And always remember that you are communicating with your audience in several ways, not just in words. They listen to your inflections, they watch your body language, they consider you a part of your message.


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