Two Views on Public Speaking Training: Skills and Technique vs. Personal Style

I had lunch with a colleague last week and we had a rousing discussion about two different approaches to teaching public speaking and presentation skills.

My company, DeFinis Communications, approaches the training process from a skills perspective. We teach the techniques, behaviors and skills that are associated with powerful and effective public speaking—and we do it with a proprietary coaching approach that gets great results. Once those fundamentals are in place, our clients get stronger and more confident so they are able to take risks and let their personalities shine on a solid and reliable base of skill. From there we move to personal style enhancements.

My colleague, on the other hand, works for a company that has an entirely different philosophy and point of view. They believe that skill training is close to useless. She feels that the most important aspect of public speaking training is what she calls “authenticity training,” where she teaches people how to speak from the heart in an open, emotional and spontaneous way.

So who’s right?

In my experience, the people we most often work with “don’t know what they don’t know.” So part of what we do is support them through the learning process as we teach them specific and practical ways to communicate. For example, I recently worked with a group of experienced presenters who had accumulated some bad speaking habits. It was my job to (gently) point those out and raise awareness. Then I helped them replace the bad habits with solid skills that they could rely upon to communicate their message more effectively. Once these new skills were in place, they felt much more confident and were able to let their unique personalities shine. 

My colleague then spoke about a program she had recently facilitated where each of the nine presenters she worked with had the audience crying after every speech. She said the emotional impact of their speeches was very powerful and she achieved this by avoiding skills training altogether. Rather, she coached them to reach deeper into their own personal experience—to add emotion and stories to their message and to be more expressive. She didn’t coach them on “how” to do that, but she said they all ended up fully expressing their ideas and emotions in a rich and meaningful way.

What do you think? Is there one right approach?

Perhaps the best method is to blend a certain amount of each philosophy into one training experience. Yet my professional experience and personal instinct cautions me against this. It reminds of when my son was a little boy and began to play soccer. He and his friends did nothing more than chase after the ball at full speed from one end of the field to the other. They had little skill, no strategy and limited playing experience to back them up. They were all having a great time out there, but with little success. It was only after they were trained, coached and gained some skills that they actually looked like a team and won a few games—and I think they had a better time on the field as well.

So I will stick with skills and technique training every time. While getting people to feel and express emotion has its place, skillfully getting your point across so people take action on your ideas is more valuable—and profitable—for today’s business presenters.