When you think about public speaking, you probably focus most on the act of delivering a speech. However, a public speaking course gives you a chance to develop many other communication skills, such as critically analyzing a topic, managing nervousness, listening eff ectively, adapting to an audience, building your credibility, fi nding and using many diff erent types of information, organizing ideas, and presenting ideas and information.
Developing Transferable Skills
Transferable skills, such as fi nding information and organizing ideas, can be carried over from one context or occasion to another. So, for example, when you learn to manage anxiety in your public speaking class, you’ll be able to apply that skill in other settings, such as a job interview. Th e skills you learn in your public speaking class will help you in other communication situations as well.
Becoming More Confi dent and Managing Speech Anxiety
Nearly everyone gets nervous when speaking in public. Good speakers learn to cope with that anxiety. Successfully completing a public speaking course will help build your confi dence, which will in turn help you manage speech anxiety.20 Th e process of habituation—fearing a situation less as it becomes more familiar, or habit-like—helps you manage your speech anxiety over time, just as doing almost anything repeatedly makes you more comfortable doing it. For example, you probably experienced some nervousness the fi rst time you attended a college class. Aft er a few class meetings, though, you likely became more comfortable because you had a better idea of what to expect. Repetition alone isn’t enough, however; you also need positive experiences. You didn’t become more comfortable taking college courses only because you attended a certain number of class sessions. Your comfort level increased because you started to get to know your classmates, you made a comment that your instructor praised, or you successfully completed the fi rst assignment. In other words, you were encouraged to come back and feel more comfortable. In the same way, positive experiences in a public speaking course can help you get used to speaking outside of a classroom setting. You’ll get positive feedback about your speeches, and you’ll get constructive suggestions about what you might change so that you give a more eff ective speech next time. Both kinds of feedback give you direction and remind you that you have the support of your instructor and classmates. Th e increased confi dence and decreased anxiety you experience as your public speaking class progresses will transfer to speaking situations outside of class. When speaking opportunities arise, such as stating your opinion about a political issue at a town hall meeting or explaining an idea to colleagues in a meeting at work, you’ll feel more enthusiastic about them. Chapter 2 covers specifi c strategies for increasing your confi dence and managing the common psychological and physiological eff ects of public speaking anxiety.
Becoming a Better Listener
Poor listening skills can cause all sorts of problems— missing a key point during a staff meeting, misunderstanding a doctor’s advice, or giving an inappropriate response to a friend’s question. A public speaking course sharpens your listening skills.21 As you build your communication skills, one goal is learning how to listen reciprocally, meaning that all participants in any social interaction listen to one another with open minds and full attention. Ethical communicators listen openly even when they disagree with someone. Chapter 3 presents specifi c strategies that will help you become a more eff ective listener and better at compensating for the poor listening skills of others.
Adapting to Different Audiences and Building Your Credibility
Gathering and analyzing information about an audience helps you identify audience members’ interests and concerns, what they know about your topic, and how they might respond to what you say. Whether you’re telling coworkers about a new soft ware program, running for election to student government, or even just entertaining friends with stories from your travels, knowing your audience is essential to getting your message across well. Chapter 5 explains the best methods for researching and analyzing audiences. Another related skill is building your credibility as a communicator. Speaker credibility refers to how much an audience views the speaker as competent, friendly, trustworthy, and dynamic. How you establish and maintain your credibility as a speaker varies from audience to audience and topic to topic. As a result, knowing how to communicate your credibility will help you get your ideas across to others no matter what the context. Suppose, for instance, that you’d like to get your college to provide more funding for student organizations on campus. Your message will be much more persuasive if the school’s administrators view you as a credible spokesperson. Chapter 5 describes the four components of credibility and explains how they can help you become a more believable and respected speaker.
Finding and Using Reliable Information
Knowing how to locate information, evaluate its reliability and usefulness for your purpose, and apply it ethically and eff ectively can serve you well in all aspects of your life. Finding and assessing information at work is an obvious example. But research skills are essential for your home life as well. A recent study found that 80 percent of internet users in the United States search for health information online, yet very few check the sources of that information.22 As a result, millions of Americans rely on health information that may or may not be accurate or reliable. Learning how to systematically fi nd, analyze, and evaluate information in your public speaking class will help you avoid poor and discredited information. Chapter 6 covers the research process in depth.
Organizing Ideas and Information Effectively
Speakers who force their audiences to try to fi gure out what they’re saying don’t get very far. Listeners expect and need to hear information that is clearly organized. One of the best ways for you to provide this clarity is by using familiar patterns of organization such as chronological (how something and- eff ect (how one thing results in another), and problem–solution (which identifi es a problem and discusses how to solve it). To further help audiences follow what you’re saying, use purposeful transitions to link points together. You can also organize the content of your speech with an outline. An outline keeps you on track and gives you a basic plan for researching, constructing, and delivering what you want to say about your topic. Public speaking students develop ways to organize their ideas more eff ectively outside the classroom too.23 Whether you’re giving directions to your home or explaining how to use a new piece of equipment, organizing what you want to say makes it easier for other people to understand you. When you give a speech, organizing your points before you speak can give your ideas greater impact. Chapter 8 covers how to organize and outline your ideas.
Presenting Ideas and Information Effectively
Eff ective communication requires mindfulness: consciously focusing on a situation and maintaining awareness of what you say and how others respond.24 A mindful public speaker is an audience-centered speaker. Being mindful in your public speaking course will help you be more mindful as you present ideas and information in your other social interactions too. Mindfulness also applies to planning, preparing, and using presentation media eff ectively. Integrating PowerPoint, Keynote, or other digital slide soft ware has become a requirement for many business presentations, but it’s not appropriate for every speaking situation. For instance, when you get together with your friends for dinner, you wouldn’t use digital slides to tell them about your whitewater kayaking trip in Chile. However, you might put together a digital slide show to share your adventure at a meeting of your kayaking club. Chapter 11 gives you tips and strategies for using all presentation media. Public speaking skills are life skills. Th at is, you’ll use what you learn in your public speaking class in all aspects of your life. Table 1.1 on page 12 summarizes the transferable skills learned in a public speaking course, how they’re developed, and how they benefi t people in everyday life.