What you need to know about public speaking: history, types and tips

Public speaking is an essential skill that can help you influence, inspire and connect with your audience. You can become a more confident and effective speaker by understanding the history and types of public speaking and following a few helpful tips for improving your communication skills.

Mastering the art of public speaking can open up new opportunities whether you’re looking to persuade, educate, or entertain.

What is public speaking?

Public speaking is the act of verbally communicating information or ideas to a group of individuals. The number of people in this group can range from just a few to thousands, and the setting can be anything from an intimate gathering to a formal event.

Public speaking isn’t just talking, though. It’s a craft, finely tuned over time. It has structures, strategies and styles that help make communication effective, engaging and impactful.

Purposes of public speaking

Public speaking is more than standing in front of a group of people and talking. The main drive behind successful public speaking is the purpose it serves. This purpose helps guide the speech’s content, style and presentation.

Generally, it serves three broad purposes: to persuade, educate and entertain.


Persuasive speech is one of the oldest forms of public speaking, dating back to ancient Greece.

As the name suggests, this type of speaking is all about convincing your audience about a particular point of view, idea or course of action. The speaker aims to align the audience’s beliefs or actions with their own, using logic, emotion and personal credibility.

An effective persuader knows how to influence, not manipulate, engaging with the audience on complex ideas rather than triggering reactive emotion.


Educational public speaking aims to impart knowledge or instruct the audience on a particular topic.

This form of speaking is present in many settings, from the university lecture hall to the corporate training room. A successful educational speaker is organized, clear and engaging. They should be able to break down complex information and concepts into understandable, bite-sized pieces.

A good educational speaker is also an effective teacher, helping the audience understand new ideas and concepts.


Entertainment-oriented public speaking is still informative and persuasive, but it also involves captivating an audience with a performance that primarily seeks to amuse or delight listeners.

You might find this style of oration in comedy standups, dramatic interpretations or engaging storytelling sessions.

Unlike educational or persuasive speeches, you might characterize entertaining speeches by their creativity and flexibility. Speakers often use humor, anecdotes, dramatic pauses and stylistic voices to keep their audiences intrigued and hooked.

While these speeches may seem lighthearted, they often require extensive practice and skill to strike the right balance between entertaining and overwhelming the audience.

The history of public speaking

Public speaking has been a fundamental aspect of society for as long as humans have communicated. It’s deeply rooted in our global history, from ancient Greeks giving speeches in assemblies and markets to American presidents delivering their inaugural addresses.

Ancient beginnings

The art of public speaking, also known as rhetoric, is rooted in ancient Greece. Approximately 2,500 years ago, Greek philosopher and educator Aristotle defined public speaking. He outlined three components of persuasive speaking:

  • ethos (credibility)
  • pathos (emotion)
  • logos (logic)

This classification still forms the backbone of many public speaking strategies today.

Public speaking and democracy

Public speaking played a pivotal role in strengthening democracy in ancient Rome. The courts often required citizens to deliver speeches in court to defend their rights. Hence, a good command of public speaking was a key prerequisite for any influential Roman citizen.

Education formalized public speaking into a discipline during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods and made its way into general curricula.

Modern public speaking

In the 21st century, public speaking is more accessible and diverse. It’s no longer limited to politicians and scholars but extends to business leaders, activists, educators and even comedians.

Thanks to technology, speakers can connect with audiences globally through mediums like TED Talks and podcasts, broadening their scope and reach.

Many business leaders use public speaking as part of their marketing and selling tactics. They may present at events, lead events for their business brand or present as a guest on outlets such as podcasts. This is often termed “speaking to sell”, as it relates to using the stage’s power and influence for business objectives.

In the corporate world, public speaking is common. It’s a requirement for leading meetings with small teams or the company as a whole. It can take place online via conference calls and webinars or in person.

Storytelling as part of public speaking

Storytelling is an essential part of public speaking. Many people learn best and remember information through stories, so storytelling is an excellent way to demonstrate a point or influence action from your audience.

Politicians are a helpful example of this as they commonly use stories to respond to questions in debates or as their main device when giving a speech to drive potential voter action. Like politics, anytime influence is the goal; stories are an effective way to connect and gain buy-in.

Public speaking training

Many people believe public speaking is daunting, but an array of resources and organizations are dedicated to helping individuals improve their oratory skills. Public speaking training can take many forms, from traditional classes and workshops to modern online courses.

Toastmasters International

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide to promote communication, public speaking and leadership skills. It allows members to develop these skills through a learn-by-doing program, which takes place in a supportive, friendly environment.

Toastmasters uses a structured program to help members work on their speaking skills, providing constructive feedback and advice to hone their craft.

Membership in Toastmasters isn’t just about becoming a better speaker, though. It’s about building confidence, developing leadership skills and expanding your network. You get the opportunity to practice speaking frequently, in front of a group, on a wide range of topics.

The feedback and support fellow club members give you can be invaluable in your journey to becoming an effective communicator.


Another international organization, Rostrum, provides a platform for its members to practice and improve their speaking skills in a safe and encouraging environment. Rostrum clubs are all over the world and meet regularly for members to give speeches, gain feedback and develop their communication and leadership abilities.

Rostrum’s structured training program offers members a series of tutorials, guides and a personal mentor to help them improve.

Joining international organizations like Toastmasters and Rostrum is a great way to significantly improve your speaking abilities. These organizations aim to empower people to become more effective communicators and leaders in their personal and professional lives.

Self-training solutions

Self-training solutions are a good alternative for those who prefer to learn at their own pace or perhaps need to work on their public speaking skills independently due to time or location constraints.

Pip Decks – Storyteller Tactics Deck

Incorporating storytelling into your speech is one of the most effective ways to engage your audience when public speaking. The Pip Decks Storyteller Tactics Deck is a powerful tool designed to help you master the art of storytelling.

This deck incorporates several tactics and strategies for crafting compelling narratives, drawing from years of research in fields such as psychology, marketing and, of course, public speaking. It includes techniques related to character development, plot crafting and effective timing, among others.

By incorporating these storytelling techniques into your speeches, you can connect with your audience more effectively, maintain their attention and communicate your message in an impactful way.

Online courses

Online courses offer a flexible way to learn and practice public speaking skills. Platforms such as Coursera, Udemy and LinkedIn Learning provide a wide array of courses targeted at different levels of experience, from beginners to advanced speakers.

These courses often include video lectures, reading materials, practical exercises and community forums where you can interact with instructors and fellow learners. This type of training allows you to study at a pace that suits you and gain feedback on your progress.

Things to remember when giving a speech

The following are practical tips for when you’re up on stage or in front of an audience. This advice can enhance your delivery and help ensure your message resonates with your audience.

Move your gaze

One of the hallmarks of a great public speaker is their ability to engage the entire audience. Consciously moving your gaze across the audience as you speak is a strategy that can help you do this effectively.

Keep in mind that eye contact is an essential element of personal communication. It can create a sense of connection and mutual understanding. Eye contact makes listeners feel seen and included, creating a more personal and engaging interaction.

However, be careful not to stare at one person or spot for too long, as this can become uncomfortable. Instead, try to scan your gaze over the audience, systematically covering the entire room. This technique can help maintain engagement, keep your audience’s attention and show that you are confident and in control.

Talk – don’t read

While planning your speech and knowing your material is essential, a successful public speaker doesn’t read a script. Instead, they engage their audience by speaking naturally and conversationally. Reading from a prepared script can often feel impersonal and may not effectively engage your audience.

Rather than reading verbatim from a script, use your notes as a guide to remind you of key points or facts. You should come across as knowledgeable about your topic but also genuine and spontaneous. To achieve this, practice your speech multiple times until you are comfortable with the flow and content. This will give you the confidence to deliver your message naturally without constantly referring to your notes.

Your voice is a tool

Your voice is one of your most powerful tools for captivating your audience and communicating your message. You can vary your tone, pitch, volume and speed to add emphasis and maintain the audience’s interest. A monotone or dull voice will likely bore your audience, no matter how compelling your content might be.

Work on developing your vocal variety and practice emphasizing key points in your speech by changing your tone or volume. You can use brief pauses to let important ideas reverberate, giving your audience time to digest your content.

Remember, your voice sets the mood and energy level for your speech, so use it wisely.

Body language

Body language is a crucial part of effective public speaking. Hand gestures, facial expressions and posture can all convey a wealth of information and significantly impact how your audience perceives you and receives your message. Positive body language can help boost your credibility, keep your listeners engaged and strengthen your message’s impact.

Try to use natural and meaningful gestures that align with what you’re saying. Stand tall and confident, maintaining good posture throughout your speech. Use facial expressions to convey emotion and engage with your audience. Be mindful of any nervous habits you may have, such as fidgeting or pacing, as these can be distracting.

You can find online body language training courses that show various postures and movements to explain how they impact the audience. Even basic things like how you stand, where you hold your hands and your facial expressions impact how the audience understands or perceives you.

Enhance your public speaking skills with Pip Decks

Taking advantage of resources like Pip Decks can help you enhance your public speaking skills. This method employs practical tools, like the Storytelling Tactics Deck, which allows you to weave narratives into your speeches seamlessly.

Harness the power of storytelling to captivate your audience and make lasting impressions. At the same time, you can further refine your skills by actively pursuing self-improvement through online courses and self-training solutions.

Like any other skill, public speaking proficiency comes with practice, patience and a desire to improve. As you continue building upon your public speaking skills, you’ll find yourself becoming a more confident, persuasive and effective communicator, capable of making your voice heard and making a difference in your chosen field.

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