Public speaking has evolved from mostly emotional elocution styles in the 19th century to the use of more of a conversational tone influenced by 21st century technology, an expert in media history and technology said Monday at Wake Forest University.

“Technology applied to speech changes speech in a number of ways,” said Brent Malin, an associate professor in the department of communication at the University of Pittsburgh. “What manner of speech isn’t being influenced by radio talk jocks, TV talk show hosts and video bloggers?”

Malin spoke before about 80 people in Carswell Hall at Wake Forest on “Electrifying Voices: Technology and Public Speaker in the Early 20th Century United States.”

During the 1800s, Malin said, communication scholars noted the trend of elocution as a public speaking technique. Speakers would use body gestures, including hand motions, as they spoke. Several books contained depictions of how a speaker should use his hands, arms and other parts of his body to make his points during a speech, he said.

Speakers typically delivered emotional messages, he said. During that time, public speakers even read poetry with an emotional flare.

“The emotion of a speech was located in a set of predetermined movements,” Malin told the audience.

That began to change by the early 20th century, Malin said. Researchers noted that good speakers were supposed to sound cultured and natural in delivering their messages. By the 1920s, American speakers were heavily influenced by radio, he said.

Researchers began studying those they considered to be effective public speakers, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who became the 32nd U.S. president, Malin said. Communications professors devised such machines as the pronounciphone that could teach people to pronounce words correctly.

In addition, radio announcers, who were mostly men, were held in high esteem for their public-speaking skills, he said. Female radio announcers were shunned because critics maintained that female voices had too much personality.

During the 1920s, public speaking evolved into a friendly, conversational style, Malin said.

“Radio announcers used a speaking style that all speakers were expected to admire and emulate,” he said.

Nearly 100 years later, public speakers are influenced by computers, webcasts, PowerPoint presentations, YouTube and other 21st century technologies, Malin said. Their influences on public speaking need additional study, he said.

Leah Haynes, a WFU junior from Archdale, said that Malin’s remarks about elocution were effective.

“I enjoyed his incorporation of elocution speech with his remarks and how elocution evolved into the speech of radio announcers, which is something we are familiar with.”


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