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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.

March 19th, 2010 | Permalink | Trackback | Bookmark and Share

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

  1. uno

    People hate robots! But some ideas about presentations and public speaking can help people to make better presentations.

  2. Cordelia Ditton (DillyTalk)

    Hi Angela
    I think your colleague and you both have really important points to make.
    Like you, I train people to speak in public and I completely agree that having a secure framework of skills is fundametally important. I also agree that adding emotion and stories are very important. After all, what is commmunication but the exchange of appropriate emotions? And stories or narrative are the best way to engage an audience and lead them through your argument.

    If I had to choose, I’d side with you - but I think I’d try and persuade your colleague that the two ways are not mutually exclusive!

  3. Heather Stubbs

    I agree that skills come first. A pianist can have great feeling in his/her heart, but it won’t come out in the music unless the fingers can do the job! I maintain that people feel a lot better about doing something when they know exactly what to do and how to do it. And if they feel better, they will be more relaxed, and that’s when emotion and personality can come out. Both elements, are necessary. Who wants to listen to a fake or a robot? We need to be authentic. Authenticity is the jewel, but without the setting of good technique who will see it?

  4. Nick Hanson

    I’ve always believed you have to connect with your audience first. To me that requires two primary things: Great skills (i.e. behavioral skills - eye communication, enthusiasm, posture, etc…) the second is great content - Content is only great however if like you said it comes from having personal or relateable stories, analogies and visuals. The key is that they are focused to the listener. If it’s not, it won’t matter what the presentation is.

  5. Fred Miller

    You’re both correct!

    It takes the skills and fundamentals to present.

    It’s the emotion from the heart that adds to the delivery.

  6. Olivia Mitchell

    Hi Angela

    Great discussion. I agree that it’s a combination of both.

    But it’s possible to overteach technique eg: “at this point in your presentation use this gesture”. That leads to an artificial, inauthentic presenter.

    People already have many of the skills they need to be effective presenters. They’re the skills they use in one-on-one conversation. But they tend to abandon those skills when they stand up in front of a group. I coach them to retrieve those skills and use them to connect with each person in their audience.


  7. Dermot Greene

    I tend to agree with the other commenters here. It’s definitely both but there’s no point in having someone up on stage if they don’t have the basic skills, so for me, step one would be to give them the basic skills and brief them on what not to do.
    Step two would be to learn about their own speaking style and then enhance their styles with skills that complement their delivery style.

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