Even in today’s era of more personal forms of communication—text messaging, instant messaging, chatting, blogging, and the like—you take part in many public communication contexts. Th is section discusses four of those contexts: the college classroom, the workplace, your community, social events, and online.
At this point in your school career, you’ve probably already answered instructors’ questions, asked questions yourself, given reports, or explained ideas in class. You’ve probably also told stories, had spontaneous conversations, expressed your views in discussion groups, and collaborated on assignments. These are all informal speaking opportunities in the classroom.
Higher education today requires students to participate more actively in their classroom experiences than ever before. Consequently, communication across the curriculum (CXC) has become commonplace on most campuses.25 Rather than requiring oral presentations only in communication courses, CXC recommends that speaking assignments be given in all sorts of classes, from biology to dance. If you haven’t already, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to exercise and refine your public speaking skills in your other classes.
In the Workplace
As the basis of our economy continues to shift from manufacturing to information, the ability to communicate well becomes even more essential to professional success.26 Employers in all types of organizations and industries rank effective oral and written communication skills as the most important skill set for college graduates to have when they enter the workforce (Figure 1.1). Notice how communication skills provide the foundation for the development of other important skills, like working well with need people who interact with coworkers, supervisors, and the public effectively. Research shows that students who successfully complete a class in public speaking improve their communication skills in the workplace.27 You may think, “I’ll never do any public speaking in my job.” At first, you might be able to avoid public speaking situations at work. However, you’ll need excellent communication skills to advance your career in any field. Even in professions such as accounting—usually not associated with public speaking—very good oral communication skills are essential for building business contacts and being promoted.28 Some companies even hire speech coaches to help employees improve their speaking abilities before considering them for promotion.29 However, it’s far better to arrive at hiring or promotion interviews with those skills already developed.
Citizens who are willing to speak in their communities make up the very foundation of a democracy.30 When you use your public speaking skills to discuss issues with others in your community, you contribute to a more informed society and feel a greater sense of belonging. By communicating publicly, you participate in democracy at its most basic level. 31 The skills you develop in your public speaking class can help you contribute much to the various communities to which you belong.
Consider the example of Mike Sessions, the high school student who won the Hillsdale, Michigan, mayoral campaign in 2005. Just days aft er turning 18 and registering to vote, Mike filed his intention to run for mayor as a write-in candidate in his southcentral Michigan town. Each day after school, Mike went from door to door, telling people who he was and why he was running for mayor. The young candidate spoke at the Kiwanis Club, a record shop, and the local firehouse. In the end, his determination and speaking skills paid off : He won the election, defeating incumbent Don Ingles by two votes.32
At Social Events
Many social events, such as quinceañeras, graduations, wedding receptions, retirement banquets, and family reunions call for public speaking. Casual get-togethers like birthday celebrations, holiday gatherings, going-away parties, neighborhood barbeques, and dinners with friends oft en become more meaningful when attendees mark the moment with a few brief comments to the group. Such occasions serve important cultural functions by transmitting values and strengthening the social fabric. When you celebrate graduating from your college or university, for example, you may be called on to say a few words, even if the event is an informal gathering. Successfully completing a class in public speaking will help you prepare a short speech your audience will remember, and that truly expresses the meaning of the occasion for you. It will probably be captured on video as well, so why not make it memorable in a positive way! Social events offer fairly regular opportunities to demonstrate and further develop your public speaking skills throughout your life.
As technology has evolved, so too have the opportunities for public speaking. If you’re like most people today, you spend a considerable part of your life online. You go online for school and work; to get caught up on news, entertainment, and sports; and to use social media to connect with friends. But you probably aren’t just a consumer of online media—you may create it too. For example, you may post commentaries on YouTube, upload video biographies to job websites, make videos for a web-based dating service, create long-distance business presentations, start up blogs, and provide status updates to your colleagues in online business meetings. Distance speaking is fast becoming part of the public speaking landscape. Distance speaking is the planned and structured presentation of ideas transmitted from one physical location to other locations by means of information and communications technology. You can adapt the skills you learn in your public speaking class to all kinds of online communication. Although the technologies used for distance speaking create their own speaking advantages and challenges, the skills you need for effective public speaking don’t change. Online speaking still involves a human speaker sending a message to a human audience, just as face-to-face speaking does. Knowing how to come up with good ideas, research a topic, organize the content, and deliver a speech effectively all transfer smoothly from face-to-face to online speaking.