Public speaking can best be described as knowing the difference between speech and talk. The first will be respected and revered, the second scorned and ridiculed. The man who can speak is a leader, the man who can talk a fool. A speech will be recalled and recited for a lifetime, talk will be forgotten five minutes after it is finished.
When acquiring skills in public speaking it is vitally important to distinguish between speech and talk. An infant can talk, presenting slow, stuttering ideas that require the skilled listener to comprehend. A relative coming to visit from out of town would likely require a translator to be able to understand what it was that the child wanted when it spoke. Unless the listener knew what they were listening for, the toddler’s talk would be little more than insensible babble.
To talk requires no great amount of intelligence or cognitive skill. One can talk all day without ideas, opinions, information or expression and efficiently waste the time of anyone unfortunate enough to be trapped into listening. Talk accomplishes nothing, changes nothing, and in general does little other than pass the time and boost the ego of the speaker. Talk is trivial, and on the whole best avoided unless one happens to be attending a convention for fools or attempting to distract an overzealous mother in law intent on interrogation.
It was Shakespeare who perhaps best expressed the foolishness of talking with the following description of Gratiano, a character taken from the pages of his comedy The Merchant of Venice.
“Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice. His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ‘ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search.”
If talking is the speaking of nothing, then speech is the speaking of something. Speech, in its purest form, requires no translator, nor does the listener have to seek to find the reason behind it. It clearly conveys an idea with sufficient conviction and argument to give it strength. The man (or woman) who has an idea and can express it clearly, organize his thoughts and create a plan, is destined to become a leader among men. Why? Not because he has any particular leadership skills, or any qualification that cannot be found in a multitude of his peers. Rarely does this individual possess any particular trait or characteristic that sets him apart from the crowd.
What he does have is the ability to think for himself, focus his thoughts and ideas and present them in a way that will bring others about to his point of view. This is the man who can lead a country into battle based on the strength of his conviction. He has the skill in public speaking that will spur men into action, carrying them along on his own enthusiasm, and the ability to think on his feet and adjust his thoughts, his actions and his speech to any situation. This man will walk into a room full of tired, disillusioned veterans and inspire them to pick up their guns and fight another day.
Public speaking requires an intimate understanding of the properties of speech as well as the ability to present it properly. If a speaker cannot distinguish between speech and talk he is unlikely to be a speaker very long.