109 Speaking Competencies

We assume you are reading this book or chapter because you wish to improve your speaking skills – a worthy goal. As Ayn Rand alludes to in her quote, a desire to succeed is the first step in achieving this objective. Nevertheless, you cannot hit a target unless you know what it is. Thus, the final portion of this chapter is devoted to an overview of eleven speaking competencies which we consider to be the standards for evaluating a variety of presentations at every level of mastery. These are based on the Public Speaking Competence Rubric [PSCR].[1] A complete copy of the rubric can be found at Activities.

1. Useful topic. The first speaking competency is to select a topic that is appropriate to the audience and the occasion. An advanced speaker selects a worthwhile topic that engages the audience. His topic also presents the audience with new information that they did not know before the speech. A beginning speaker selects a topic that lacks originality or is out of date. His topic provides no new information to the audience. An ineffective speaker may give a speech in which a single topic cannot be deduced by the audience.

Woman speaking on stage

“Untitled” by Krystle. CC-BY.

2. Engaging introduction. To formulate an introduction that orients the audience to the topic and the speaker is the second speaking competency. An advanced speaker writes an introduction that contains an excellent attention-getter. She firmly establishes her credibility. She provides a sound orientation to the topic, states her thesis clearly, and previews her points in a cogent and memorable way. For the beginning speaker, her attention-getter is mundane and she somewhat develops her credibility. Her thesis is awkwardly composed and she provides little direction for the audience. The ineffective speaker has no opening technique, no credibility statement and provides no background on the topic. In addition she has no thesis statement and no preview of her points.

3. Clear organization. Competency three is to use an effective organizational pattern. An advanced speaker is very well organized and delivers a speech with clear main points. His points are mutually exclusive and directly related to the thesis. Further, he employs effective transitions and signposts to help the speech flow well. The beginning speaker has main points that are somewhat organized, but the content of these points may overlap. Transitions may also be present in his speech, but they are not particularly effective. In the ineffective speaker’s speech, there is no clear organizational pattern, there are no transitions, and it sounds as if the information is randomly presented.

Don’t leave inferences to be drawn when evidence can be presented. -Richard Wright

4. Well-supported ideas. Fourth on the list of speaking competencies is to locate, synthesize, and employ compelling supporting materials. In the advanced speaker’s speech, her key points are well supported with a variety of credible materials, and her sources provide excellent support for her thesis. In addition, all of her sources are clearly cited. A beginning speaker has points that are generally supported with a fair mix of materials. Only some of her evidence supports her thesis, and her source citations need to be clarified. An ineffective speaker gives a speech with no supporting materials or no source citations.

5. Closure in conclusion. The fifth speaking competency is to develop a conclusion that reinforces the thesis and provides psychological closure. The advanced speaker provides a clear and memorable summary of his points, and he refers back to the thesis or big picture. His speech also ends with a strong clincher or call to action. A beginning speaker provides some summary of his points, but there is no clear reference back to his thesis. The closing technique of his speech can also be strengthened. In an ineffective speaker’s speech, there is no conclusion. His speech ends abruptly and without closure.

6. Clear and vivid language. To demonstrate a careful choice of words is the sixth speaking competency. An advanced speaker’s language is exceptionally clear, imaginative and vivid. Her language is also completely free from bias, grammatical errors and inappropriate usage. The beginning speaker selects language that is adequate to make her point. She has some errors in grammar and occasionally uses slang, jargon or awkward sentence structure. The ineffective speaker has many errors in her grammar and syntax. She also mispronounces words and extensively uses slang, jargon, and/or sexist or racist terms.

7. Suitable vocal expression. Competency number seven is to effectively use vocal expression and paralanguage to engage the audience. Excellent use of vocal variation, intensity and pacing are characteristics of the advanced speaker. His vocal expression is also natural and enthusiastic, and he avoids fillers. Some vocal variation is evident in the beginning speaker’s speech. He also enunciates clearly, speaks audibly, and generally avoids fillers (e.g., “um,” “uh,” “like,” etc.). An ineffective speaker is inaudible, enunciates poorly, and speaks in a monotone voice. His speech also has poor pacing, and he distracts listeners with fillers.

8. Corresponding nonverbals. Eighth on the list of competencies is to demonstrate nonverbal behavior that supports the verbal message. An advanced speaker has posture, gestures, facial expression and eye contact that are natural, well developed, and display high levels of poise and confidence. Some reliance on notes is seen with the beginning speaker, but she has adequate eye contact. She also generally avoids distracting mannerisms. The ineffective speaker usually looks down and avoids eye contact. She has nervous gestures and other nonverbal behaviors that distract from or contradict the message.

Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words. – Deborah Bull

9. Adapted to the audience. The ninth speaking competency is to successfully adapt the presentation to the audience. The advanced speaker shows how information is important to audience members, and his speech is tailored to their beliefs, values and attitudes. He may also make allusions to culturally shared experiences. A beginning speaker assumes but does not articulate the importance of the topic. His presentation is minimally adapted to the audience, and some of the ideas presented in the speech are removed from the audience’s frame of reference or experiences. An ineffective speaker’s speech is contrary to the audience’s beliefs, values and attitudes. His message may be generic or canned and no attempt is made to establish common ground.

10. Adept use of visual aids. To skillfully make use of visual aids is the tenth competency. Exceptional explanation and presentation of visual aids is characteristic of the advanced speaker. Her speech has visuals that provide powerful insight into the speech topic, and her visuals are of high professional quality. The beginning speaker’s visual aids are generally well developed and explained, although there may be minor errors present in the visuals. An ineffective speaker uses visual aids that distract from her speech. Her visuals may not be relevant, or her visuals may be of poor professional quality.

11. Convincing persuasion. The eleventh and final speaking competency is to construct an effectual persuasive message with credible evidence and sound reasoning. An advanced speaker articulates the problem and solution in a clear, compelling manner. He supports his claims with powerful and credible evidence while completely avoiding reasoning fallacies. His speech also contains a memorable call to action. In the beginning speaker’s speech, the problem and solution are evident, and most claims are supported with evidence. He also has generally sound reasoning and a recognizable call to action. For the ineffective speaker, the problem and/or solution are not defined. His claims are not supported with evidence, his speech contains poor reasoning, and there is no call to action. Readers should note that the competencies listed above are not all inclusive. Ultimately one must adjust, expand, and apply these competencies as best fits the requirements of the speaking situation. But they do provide a starting point for new or less experienced speakers to begin to understand all of the interrelated components of a speech.

Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn. – Benjamin Franklin

  1. Schreiber, L., Paul, G. & Shibley, L. R. (2012). The development and test of the Public Speaking Competence Rubric. Communication Education61(3), 205–233 


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