Speech coaches and trainers often perpetuate myths and misconceptions about presentations and public speaking.
I begin with the assumption that giving a speech is both an art and a skill.
Public speaking an art in that it requires a certain amount of creativity.
You have to come up with (i.e. create) a good idea to begin with. You have to put it together in a logical and persuasive structure. You have to use words and phrases and, sometimes, stories in a clear and evocative manner. And you have to deliver your speech with at least a modicum of drama.
Public speaking, like any art, is also a skill.
It has its own somewhat complex, somewhat variable set of requirements, rules, guidelines, and principles to learn, practice, and master. To give a speech — a good one, at least — you have to be able to plan and create one, explain your idea clearly in a limited amount of time, connect with an audience, begin and end a speech, overcome fear and project confidence in front of an audience, answer questions, and think on your feet.
Public speaking isn’t as complex or demanding a skill as, say, performing brain surgery or rocket science. But then again it’s not as simple or easy as riding a bike.
Beginning with that assumption — public speaking is both an art and a skill — I’ve developed my list of…
5 Things Speech Coaches and Trainers Won’t Tell You about Public Speaking
1. There is no “secret” to giving a speech.
Public speaking is, perhaps, the most studied — and written about — field of human communications. Over 2,500 years ago the ancient Greeks set forth principles and practices of oratory that largely hold true to this day. Those principles and practices have been refined, modified, and amplified ever since.
But there are no secrets, just commonly available principles and practices to learn and master.
2. Not everyone can learn how to speak effectively.
Most people can improve their public speaking skills with guidance and practice. But not everybody can.
Public speaking — as an art and a skill — requires certain aptitudes. At the very least, it requires the ability to formulate and express a coherent idea while standing in front of other people. And some people simply lack those aptitudes or the ability to develop them.
If you’re able to hold a conversation, speak up at a meeting, give directions to a stranger on the street, and explain a basic concept, you have what it takes to give a speech. Or at least to learn how to give a speech. But not everyone can do those things. And assuring them that they can do those things isn’t doing them a kindness.
3. A one-day workshop won’t teach you everything you need to know in order to speak well.
You can learn some of the basic and even advanced principles and practices of public speaking in a workshop. But you have to practice those skills over and over again to master them.
A workshop is a good start, but it’s not the be-all and end-all it’s sometimes cracked up to be.
4. The best delivery techniques can’t redeem a badly flawed message.
Delivery — how you look and sound in front of an audience — is important. It can bring your message to life in the hearts and minds of your audience. It can grab their attention. It can win you their trust and support.
But ultimately what matters is your message — the idea you’re communicating. Is it true? Is it meaningful and relevant to this audience? Will it help them in some way?
Delivering a bad idea well is, to use a hackneyed expression, like putting lipstick on a pig.
5. Videotaping your speech may make you worse.
Many people benefit — at least in the short term — from watching a videotape of a speech they’ve given.
But some people find the process discouraging and unnerving. All they can see is their flaws. They fixate on their deficiencies. And they become more self-conscious, less confident, which in turn makes them less competent.
(For more information check out The Pros and Cons of Videotaping a Presentation.)
How about you? Do you agree with my list of things speech coaches and trainers won’t tell you? What would you add to it?