It’s no secret; most people are not fond of public speaking. It takes a lot of courage to get up there and address an audience, and it takes a lot of hard work to prepare for it. You have to develop an idea with a strong purpose, then do a ton of research. Then you have to put it all together in a format that makes sense. That’s a lot of work!
But something amazing happens as a result. You become a more critical thinker.
A Healthy Dose of Skepticism
If you obtain no other skill from public speaking, then at least have a healthy dose of skepticism. Be willing to question the truth or validity of anything and everything. Questions lead to thought and analysis, which leads to better answers.
Here are a few constructive ways to be a more critical thinker whether you are preparing a speech or just listening to one:
Check for a Source
There is a source for every fact or figure provided. When the speaker does not mention a source, the default source, then, is the speaker. When that occurs, ask yourself, “How does the speaker know this is true?” Yes, if you are the speaker, ask yourself how you know this is true. Red flags for undocumented sources include phrases like “statistics show” or “it’s a known fact that…”
There had better be a source that follows.
Check the Source Given
So, it’s not enough to have a source; you need a good source. That is, you need a source that can be trusted for providing valid and unbiased information. So, if you are trying to convince us to buy widgets, you don’t want to say that “Widgets.com reports that widgets perform 35% better than other leading brands!” Not that Widgets.com doesn’t have integrity, but they certainly are biased.
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Seek an Alternative
When a speaker discusses a solution to a problem, he will often try to make it sound like that solution is the only viable solution. As a critical thinker, actively seek an alternative solution. If there’s more than one answer, your job is to find it. Why? Because, it will help to expose any weaknesses in the speaker’s argument. Note: if you’re that speaker, it will give you a chance to address any counter-arguments coming from other critical thinkers in the audience.
Question the Logic
Speakers will develop arguments to persuade audiences to change (e.g. buy a product, adopt a new behavior). They will use any trick in the book to make it seem like a good idea. For example, they will tell you that some authority figure endorses the change (Read it; Oprah did!).
But, ultimately, you must ask yourself, “Will changing benefit the audience or the speaker?” If it is more of a benefit to the speaker, then it is not a good arguement.
Skeptical, But Not Jaded
Question everything, but be sure to do so in the spirit of seeking the truth. Too often the skeptic raises doubt as means of destroying new ideas rather than refining them. It’s too easy to become jaded and bitter toward the world; experience can be a cruel friend. But, take the doubts and seek the truth. Take what’s given and make it better.
That will make you a better speaker, a better speechwriter, certainly a better thinker.