Student Perspective: Public Speaking (Challenge Accepted!)


I’ve learned that many teachers and other advocates of public speaking like to tell the same joke from the same Seinfeld episode: “Recent studies show that public speaking is the number one fear among Americans, followed by death. This means, when you’re at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy!” The joke is a tad morbid, but mostly it’s sad. Public speaking offers a wealth of benefits beyond just improving your formal speaking skills. It also offers you the chance to scrutinize the way you speak all the time – with friends, in interviews, or even just to a professor in the elevator.

This year for Communication Week, the Department of Communication Studies culminated their series of events with the Cengage Publishing Speech Contest. Although I had heard about the contest, I hadn’t thought of entering it myself. Then, the night before the contest, Dr. Angela Hosek, Director of the CC100 Program, encouraged me to put a speech together and just go ahead and participate. There was absolutely nothing to lose – and a few hundred bucks to be gained if I won.

Motivating myself to take a chance and put a speech together for the event was a good decision, even if I didn’t place or win any extra cash. The speech went well, and therefore I was able to exhale a huge sigh of relief once I had finished. It was one more thing I could add to my list of Ideas That Didn’t End in Disaster, and that felt good. Truthfully, losing was just as much of a confidence boost as winning might have been, simply for the fact that I was proud I had done the contest at all.

No doubt, my story might be familiar or helpful to some people, but you don’t have to believe me. A 2007 study done at North Carolina State University [1] revealed several benefits to public speaking including: confidence-building, knowledge expansion, and organizational improvement. It’s easy to see where these benefits come from, which is something anxious speakers can take comfort in. First, forcing yourself to get up and do a speech (and get through the whole thing) boosts your self-esteem and can provide further motivation to conquer fears.

When putting together a well-written, well-researched speech, the work required provides benefits of its own separate from speaking. You not only learn relevant knowledge about your topic, but also, you are challenged with the task of communicating a message – first on paper, then in words. I’m probably going to please a lot of professors (but make most students cringe) when I say that learning to form an argument for a speech is actually an important life skill. Remembering to always consider your audience is probably the single best thing you can learn in order to be successful in life (or at least get what you want from people).

Think about it this way: Imagine you are going to a job interview at Rolling Stone Magazine. Given the magazine’s reader-base, you know it will be important to talk about pop culture and celebrities, and there’s a good chance that it’s probably okay to be a little informal (Rolling Stone drops f-bombs in many printed articles) [2]. Most likely they’ll do a lot of their judging during small talk, because they like to see a strong personality. Practice with public speaking will help you think on your feet here. Afterwards, imagine you have to go straight to the Court House for an interview to do PR for a State Representative. In this setting, you will probably need a much more formal list of your qualifications and specific intentions for the job. I’ll say it again: you have to know your audience if you want to sell yourself. You need to know what the listener is expecting and hoping to hear, and most importantly, you have to know how to show them that you know what they want. Without even realizing it, you are making arguments every day, and you’re probably doing it multiple times too.

In conclusion, public speaking not only forces you to get over your fears, but also improves your everyday communication by helping you keep your thoughts in order and getting you to think on your feet. So long as you don’t let your nerves get to you, you’ll be alright. And I promise it’s better than being in a coffin!



[Lilly is a freshmen Communications major and contributing writer to our Department blog. – Sandy]


[1] “4-H Study Shows Benefits of Public Speaking.” (2007).

[2] Although you should always take your behavioral cue from the person interviewing you. So if your interviewer is running things more formally, don’t assume that you can be informal just because the company/organization is.

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