In my 18+ years of public speaking, teaching, entertaining, performing and training, I have never met an effective public speaker who attributed his or her talents to a DVD, tape or book he or she might have read. Personally, I have not read or purchased any of those products. The reason is that I know something that the floggers of ‘public speaker wares’ will not tell you. Public speaking skill is one of those things we all have to learn by doing it.
I know that the ads and websites promise that this product or that product will make you the ‘greatest public speaker in the universe!’ And, because there are so many people who have discovered that public speaking skills can dramatically increase their earning potential, or accelerate their climb up the corporate ladder, there is a ready and willing market in which to sell tapes and such on the matter. There is a profit to be made off of people who, for lack of experience, can be made to believe that there is an easy do-it-yourself-in-the-comfort-of-your-own-home program that will get the job done. I am here to tell you that there is not. If you tried one of these programs and did not become the greatest public speaker in the universe, do not believe for one moment that the problem resides with you. Responsibility for any failure belongs squarely on the producer and flogger of the product that failed you.
Can you imagine earning a black belt in the martial art of your choice by watching DVDs? Would you purchase a series of cassette tapes to learn to ride a motorcycle? Would you trust a carpenter whose highest credential was that he had read a book on home renovations? You get the point. Doing kind-of-skill requires doing kind-of-learning.
Effective, dynamic, engaging public speaking ability can be acquired by anyone but you have to learn to do it the way that the effective, dynamic and engaging public speakers did it. If you have challenges to overcome, you will have to overcome them like accomplished speakers did (and you can believe that many of them did) If time is not an issue for you and you are looking at public speaking as a bit of a hobby, you can do several things:
1) Study speakers that you enjoy listening to (comedians, talk show hosts, news broadcasters) and analyze how they speak, how they time their delivery, how they deliver a punch line, how they pace themselves. As you pick out things that they do, make an effort to imitate their techniques when you speak in groups of friends, in board meetings etc;
2) Seek out and take every opportunity to speak;
3) Analyze your own public speaking. Decide what you can improve on and make a plan to make changes the next time you speak.
4) Don't get hung up on not being an expert speaker. Chances are, nobody is expecting you to be.
5) Once you have gained some confidence, if you have a chance to video tape yourself speaking in front of a group or audience, do it! You will learn allot from watching yourself from the audience members perspective.
If you do not have the luxury of taking your time and view public speaking skills as something you need as soon as possible, you will do well to invest in attending public speaking workshops with an experienced professional who can offer you guidance based upon your needs and abilities. Workshops are a minimal business expense that can result in big returns.
Be cautious of “workshops" that are in reality a sales pitch for tapes, DVDs or books. Workshops should be just that. They should provide guidance and instruction while providing you with hands on experience. I have heard complaints from many people who attended sessions which were conducted under a well known name and after these people had paid significant sums of money to attend, they learned very little other than the secret to their success was in the program they were given the privilege and special opportunity to purchase.
Workshops and seminars that have too many participants suggest that there might be greater focus on maximizing fees instead of on really helping individuals to become better public speakers. Look for workshops that limit participants to a reasonable number based on the focus of the sessions. In general, and depending on the purpose of the workshop, 10 to 15 would be the ideal maximum. Smaller groups will ensure that the workshops focus is on working with you to maximize your progress.
If you are determined to increase your career potential, you are wise to be pursuing public speaking skills. There is not another skill that has a similar potential to catapult you toward greater success. But beware! There are marketers who are willing to use your desire to pad their pocketbook.
La Velle Goodwin has been speaking, performing, teaching and entertaining for nearly 20 years. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, Director of Rabid Entertainment Inc. , and developer of Speech Savvy Workshops