Types of Public Speaking

Photo of person speaking to a large audience.The art of public speaking remains a communication skill that remains in high demand. The concept public speaking applies generally to situations in which a message gets communicated to a wider (most often live) audience. More specifically, public speaking can be classified based on the method the speaker used to construct the message. Speakers can present their ideas in the form of an impromptu, manuscript, memorized, or extemporaneous speech.

Impromptu speaking is unplanned, unrehearsed, and unscripted. Sometimes, an impromptu speech might arise when the speaker has no time to prepare and has to speak in a completely improvised manner, but in other situations, impromptu speaking may involve characteristically short preparation times like a few minutes. Speakers most often give impromptu speeches without notes, and will succeed if they remain spontaneous, engaging, and confident. They must have a knack for thinking quickly on a moment’s notice. Impromptu speakers face the challenge of staying on topic while keeping the “flow” of their conversational style going to maintain the audience’s attention. Regardless of the varying needs of one’s career or industry, impromptu speaking opportunities arise frequently, such as when one is called upon to explain a project, product, or process to members of management or constituent groups. Speakers that can respond with relevant information in an organized and timely manner have a greater chance of establishing credibility to their audience.

Person delivering a speech using a teleprompter.
Manuscript speakers sometimes use a teleprompter to keep them on message.

Manuscript speaking remains one of the most formal speaking styles since the speaker reads from an entirely pre-written script. Manuscript speeches frequent large, formal settings, such as commencement ceremonies or political affairs, and may utilize teleprompters to allow the speaker to maintain eye contact with the audience. Herein lies the drawback of this type of speech. Instead of interacting with the audience, keeping the speech fresh and engaging, manuscript speeches can feel canned or inauthentic to the audience.

Memorized speeches share similarities to the pre-written manuscript speech, but unlike the manuscript speech,  the speaker memorizes the speech as though it contained lines from a Shakespearean play and recites them, verbatim, to the audience instead of reading it. Memorization has its pitfalls, however, as the speaker may forget a “line”  and need to rely on improvisation techniques to fill in the gaps in memory.

Extemporaneous speaking differs from impromptu in that it allows for much more preparation and structure without relying on memorization. Extemporaneous speakers utilize an outline to serve as the foundation for a persuasive or informational speech, which provides a roadmap (but not a complete script) for the speaker to follow. In addition, extemporaneous speeches often contain a structure similar to the classic five-paragraph essay, with an introduction, main points, and a conclusion that reinforces a thesis or central idea. Speaking extemporaneously ultimately means speaking fluidly, yet with extensive preparation achieved through research. For the vast majority of topics, structuring a speech using an extemporaneous format provides the best of all worlds: a presentation with well-prepared information and defined structure, but with enough flexibility to remain conversational and fluid.


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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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