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4 Basic Public Speaking Rules

4 Basic Public Speaking Rules

Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Won Joon Kang, International Vice President for Division 1.

Every monumental change begins with an idea. The implementation of that idea arises through the medium of a voice — a tool forged through narrative, exchange, and rebuttal. In our current time of divisive political turmoil, uncertainty across worldly governments, and the spreading of misinformation through the exploitation of fears, we can only retain sanity through logical reasoning.

Simply sufficing through monikers of parties and people in power do not have to be representative of your own ideas. In such trying times, learning to think for yourself and arguing on behalf of your ideals through formulating a voice is the ultimate act of independence.

At the beginning of my high school career, I never spoke much. When I did speak, it was predicated on uncertainty. My biggest fear was ordering food at restaurants because it gave me anxiety to have to look at someone in the eye and make a declarative statement that I wasn’t too certain about.

Five years later, I was teaching 200 students public speaking and debate almost every day of the week. The change most certainly did not arise overnight, but through consistent practice, trials, and oh-so-much error.

This post is dedicated to basic public speaking rules that I wish I had known at the start of my fledgling journey. I hope you use this wisely and learn to tune your voice to that of a great orator — but, I also hope you learn to become an equally excellent listener. The greatest moments of clarity come from listening to others.

1. Status Quo, Status Schmo

Often, it’s easy to follow the beaten path on any topic. All topics produce common arguments that are recycled, regurgitated, and heavily biased toward one side. Do not feel the need to agree with what is seemingly preset as the narrative of the topic. Read, research, and immerse yourself in the mindset of both sides of the argument to come up with your own arguments and conclusions before even beginning to open your mouth.

I tend to be the last person to speak on an issue because I want to hear all sides before making a claim that may be incorrect or already said. A bad person to speak to about any topic is an uninformed one, and the worst person to speak to about any topic is a misinformed one.

2. Communication is Largely a Non-Verbal Medium

We’ve learned to never judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, we innately do. Communication experts have cited numerous times that we make predisposed judgements about speakers through the way they communicate non-verbally.

A key trick I tell my students is, “The presentation begins as your lap disappears.” When sitting down, waiting your turn to speak, the audience is not aware of you. As your name is called and heads turn, the judging immediately begins. Do not think of this as an intimidating moment! This is your time to show that you know what you’re doing.

  • Stand tall — This opens your diaphragm and makes it easier to speak (and breathe), even when you don’t feel comfortable. It also makes you look much more confident. (Fake it till you make it!)
  • Walk confidently toward your speaking position — Give yourself this opportunity to relax. Review your notes, think of the points you want to make, and don’t forget to smile.
  • Plant your feet slightly less than shoulder width apart — This will stop you from swaying like a palm tree, as would happen if you’d have your feet scrunched together. (If it’s a long presentation, don’t lock your knees!)  
  • Find friendly faces in the audience — The “picture the audience naked” trick is terrible advice. Split the room into a few discernable sections with at least one friendly face in each section. This will make eye contact more natural. (If you can’t bear to look anyone in the eye, look at their chins! It makes it seem like you’re giving eye contact, and it’s fun for you as a speaker.)

3. Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

All good arguments are capable of presenting modes of persuasion. One of the reasons an argument appears weak is because it leans too heavily on one of the three modes of persuasion.

  • Too much ethos (evidence)? That may subject you to losing the interest of the audience because they cannot feel a personal attachment to the statistics and citations thrown their way.
  • Too much pathos (emotions)? Arguments shouldn’t become theater performances — you have a strong attachment to the topic, but the audience needs facts and reasoning to be tied together.
  • Too much logos (logic)? Sometimes, the audience may not be able to follow your train of thought if not clearly outlined, or they might be looking for fallacies without the presence of evidence. Do not forget to appeal to the audience with a form of emotional connection, and never forget to present facts.

4. Arguing is Good

Being able to defend yourself without insults is a noble skill that seems to be disappearing. Often, we are scared to confront others and have substantiate arguments because they may devolve into a shouting match. (The first one to shout is often on the losing end, FYI.) Feel free to embrace argument whenever necessary. Don’t just go out starting arguments; but, know that having good deliberations with people of differing viewpoints may lead to riveting discussions.

The most important aspect is to have a third party (a judge, of sorts) to meditate and/or sit in to learn about what is being discussed. Arguments should follow this pattern:

  1. Assertion – The side one chooses to be on a topic that is discussed through evidence and the modes of persuasion.
  2. Rebuttal – Stating what the other party has stated to clearly start on the same basis, a clear counter-argument (typically the opposite of what was said), and a piece of evidence/reasoning to back the rebuttal.
  3. Carrying Onward – Often, poor arguments end up getting stuck in a loop after the first rebuttal. It becomes a rebuttal of the rebuttal of the previous rebuttal’s rebuttal of the original argument. This is where arguments devolve. After the initial rebuttal, move on to a second argument, and so forth. If you brought up the argument, you have the bearing to bring evidence and allow for a rebuttal of your case as the opposing party is not as prepared as you may be.
  4. Judge’s Decision – After a few repetitions of arguments and rebuttals, the mediator should explain who was more convincing and why. If you feel as though you were unfairly judged, next time bring three friends instead of one as a mediator to more accurately conclude.

Socrates stated in his trial that he is the wisest because he knows that he does not know everything. We can claim to be experts on a subject, but we cannot be correct on every subject. At the end of every argument, learn to let go, see if your ideas made any lasting impact, and learn from the opposing party. Likewise, for presentations, take constructive criticism, record feedback, and try again next time.

The biggest takeaway from an argument or a presentation should not be winning or the best grade, but rather what is learned from them. Stay informed, practice your presentation skills, argue, learn from others, and make your voice heard.



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