Public speaking is the process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners. The art and science of public speaking, especially in a North American competitive environment, is also known as forensics. The word 'forensic' is an adjective meaning "of public debate or argument." The word is derived from the Latin forensis, meaning "of the forum." The sense of the word "forensic" that means "pertaining to legal trials" dates from the 1600s (Oxford English Dictionary) and led to the use of the word "forensics" in reference to legal evidence.
In public speaking, as in any form of communication, there are five basic elements, often expressed as "who is saying what to whom using what medium with what effects?" The purpose of public speaking can range from simply transmitting information, to motivating people to act, to simply telling a story. Good orators should be able to change the emotions of their listeners, not just inform them. Public speaking can also be considered a discourse community. Interpersonal communication and public speaking have several components that embrace such things as motivational speaking, leadership/personal development, business, customer service, large group communication, and mass communication. Public speaking can be a powerful tool to use for purposes such as motivation, influence, persuasion, informing, translation, or simply entertaining.
The first known work on the subject was written over 2500 years ago, and the principles elaborated within it were drawn from the practices and experience of orators in ancient Greece. These basic principles have undergone modification as societies, and cultures have changed, yet remained surprisingly uniform. The history of public speaking has existed for centuries since civilization has been constructed and has had a major impact on society. The technology and the methods of this form of communication have traditionally been through oratory structure and rely on a large or sometimes somewhat small audience. However, new advancements in technology have allowed for more sophisticated communication to occur for speakers and public orators. The technological and media sources that assist the public speaking atmosphere include both videoconferencing and telecommunications. Videoconferencing is among one of the more recent technologies that is in a way revolutionizing the way that public speakers communicate to the masses. David M. Fetterman of Stanford University printed in his 1997 article Videoconferencing over the Internet: "Videoconferencing technology allows geographically disparate parties to hear and see each other usually through satellite or telephone communication systems". This technology is helpful for large conference meetings and face to face communication context, and is becoming more widespread across the world..
Using a forum such as Toastmasters to practice public speaking skills after receiving professional training is a time-tested approach to developing one's ability to speak well. It is difficult to really receive any formal training but, can still be taught and practiced by those seeking to improve their public communication skills. The organization is among one of the largest nationally recognized that specializes in the improvement and networking of effective communication skills throughout the world.
The new millennium has seen a notable increase in the number of training solutions offered in the form of video and on-line courses. Video can provide significant training potential by revealing to the student actual examples of behaviors to emulate in addition to verbal knowledge transfer. A search for "public speaking DVD" currently yields over 1,500,000 returns.
Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that operates clubs worldwide for the purpose of helping members improve their communication, public speaking and leadership skills. Through its member clubs, Toastmasters International helps men and women learn the arts of speaking, listening, and thinking.
The National Forensics Association (NFA) and the American Forensics Association (AFA) are two national organizations within the United States which sponsor competitive public speaking. Events within the NFA and AFA fall in to four categories: Public Address, Limited Preparation, Interpretive Speaking, and Debate. The Public Address events include Informative Speaking, Persuasive Speaking, Rhetorical Criticism, and After Dinner Speaking. The Limited Preparation events include Impromptu Speaking and Extemporaneous Speaking. The Interpretive events include Poetry, Prose, Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo Interpretation (in which a dramatic piece is presented by two speakers working together). The Debate events include Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Policy Debate, and Crossfire Debate.
The National Forensics League (NFL) is an organization with a similar structure and purpose to the NFA and AFA. The NFL is the national organization within the United States for competitors in high school.
The International Forensics Association (IFA) is the multi-national body whose competitors hail from colleges and universities around the world.
Public speaking and oration are sometimes considered some of the most importantly valued skills that an individual can possess. This skill can be used for almost anything. Most great speakers have a natural ability to display the skills and effectiveness that can help to engage and move an audience for whatever purpose. Language and rhetoric use are among two of the most important aspects of public speaking and interpersonal communication. Having knowledge and understanding of the use and purpose of communication can help to make a more effective speaker communicate their message in an effectual way.