public speaking or oral intercourse?

When you stand in front of a live audience and speak, what are you doing?

I have been writing about oral communication 1 so naturally an important question regularly pops into my head – am I writing about public speaking and if not why not?  What is the difference between public speaking and communicating ideas orally or oral communication?

Wikipedia describes public speaking, 2 sometimes termed oratory, as ‘the process and act of speaking or giving a lecture to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain a listening audience’. Public speaking can refer to a formal occasion where it is not a priority for the audience to be present in the exchange to understand what is being said, as long as they are told something.

John O’Connor Power, in his book titled, The Making of an Orator, said that ‘The soul of delivery is in the manful assertion of the orator’s personality, in the revelation of the high purpose by which he is actuated, in the profound conviction of the truth of his course, in the firm resolve to establish it, in the dauntless spirit that faces all obstacles, and, conquering them, sweeps onward to the desired goal.’  3

In public speaking there is no requirement to share or copulate. 4

Wikipedia (to keep it consistent) describes communication 5 as ‘requir[ing]… the communicating parties share an area of communicative commonality. 6 7 The communication process is complete once the receiver understands the sender’s message’. Wikipedia goes on to suggest that ‘oral communication’, as a sub-set of communication, includes (as sub sets) ‘speeches, presentations, discussion and aspects of interpersonal communication’. 8

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, describes intercourse as communication or dealings between individuals; … 9

When communicating ideas orally, as distinct from public speaking, there is an intimate exchange between the performer and the audience in which meaning is determined and understanding realised.

The difference between the act of public speaking and the art of communicating ideas orally or live oral communication, is that the latter is intimately relational. 10 11

I can see why some people prefer public speaking!

When you stand in front of a live audience and communicate thoughts and ideas orally, you are performing an intimate relational act. 


  1. communication – social contact, personal intercourse LME, shared possession, common participation; a similarity; a sharing. LME-L18. Access or means of access between persons or places; a means of communicating; a connecting door, passage, road, telephone line, etc. Shorter Oxford Dictionary
  2. public speaking –
  3. John O’Connor Power, The Making of an Orator, The Knickerbocker Press, 1906, p.128.
  4. the action of linking together two things or ideas; the state of being linked. LME. Grammatical or logical connection. L16
  5. communication – 
  6. emphasis added
  7. commonality – noun. LME. Possession in common; the sharing of features or attributes; the state of having something in common (with). (rare before M20) M16. A shared feature or attribute. L20.
  8. emphasis added
  9. emphasis added
  10. relational – A. adjective. Of, pertaining to, or characterised by relation; having the function of relating one thing to another M17. Relationally. noun M19.
  11. relation – the existence or effect of a connection, correspondence, or contrast between things; the particular way in which one thing stands in connection with another; any connection or association conceivable as naturally existing between things. LME.

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