Public Speaking Lessons: 3 Tips for Teaching Public Speaking
If you want to speak in public with confidence, or even teach public speaking, these 3 tips for public speaking are essential to capture the attention of your audience and keep them engaged.
In order to succeed in any practical endeavour, every student needs two characteristics:
- A willingness to listen to advice
- A willingness to apply that advice
Public Speaking is no different.
Students need to learn a specific set of skills and then to practise those skills.
As coaches, if we want to help speakers improve we need to enable both qualities.
We need to develop a personal relationship that makes the speaker want to learn and listen to our advice. We also need to create an environment where the speaker feels they can try and, if necessary fail, without feeling judged for their mistakes.
Just knowing what you need to do and not putting it into action will not prepare you for the moment when you need to stand up in front of an audience.
Equally, standing up and speaking regularly without listening to advice will not bring much improvement either.
Incomplete practice always leads to an incomplete performance.
The Key to Public Speaking is Listening and Doing
As a public speaking coach, I have seen people willing to listen, but not willing to do, and those keen to do, but not keen to listen.
I remember a gentleman who came regularly to our speakers' club and each time he sat quietly at the back, always turning down any opportunity when offered the chance to speak.
As the months went by he never trusted himself to stand up and speak for himself and so it seemed as if he was gaining little practical benefit from the sessions.
I was very aware that forcing or cajoling would not help.
Sometimes one just needs to be patient, trust the process and trust the student.
I did not feel it was for me to impose on him how I thought he should approach the evening,
rather I felt I should reassure him that, when he was ready, the support would be there.
At this stage, it seemed he was content just to learn the theory behind the art of public speaking without actually applying it himself.
Over the weeks it felt like watching a child on holiday standing by the swimming pool. Each day looking down at the water, never trusting to jump in, but keenly observing the other children as they seemed to dive in without fear. And every day going back to the edge of the pool but never getting into the water.
Then finally something shifts, the picture inside changes and the boy jumps in.
And as soon as he jumps in, he finds jumping in is easy; however, until that moment, it is not.
It is always easy for us to offer advice based on what we know and what we think the student should do, but sometimes there is a little journey necessary for the student before they are ready to take the plunge.
Creating a Safe Environment for the Public Speaker
As a teacher and mentor in public speaking, I will not necessarily know what is holding a speaker back or when they will be ready to take the plunge. However, what I can always do is help create an environment that is safe for them firstly to listen and then to act as soon as they are ready.
On some occasions, if I sense they are frightened of making a mistake I will let them know that it’s okay to make a mistake.
If they are frightened of being judged I let them know no one is judging them.
If they are frightened of looking foolish I’ll let them know that I was also frightened of looking foolish but the fear turned out to be unfounded.
Struggle is a Necessary Part of the Process
I remember learning that a butterfly fighting to emerge from its cocoon, needs to be left to struggle because the struggle to emerge is a necessary part of the process it needs to develop the strength to survive outside the cocoon and if it is helped out or encouraged before it is ready, it will not survive as it had not gone through the necessary steps.
There is a lovely Irish saying:
It does not matter how tall your grandfather was, you still have to do your own growing.
As coaches, we need to recognise that even though the next steps seem obvious or simple to us, we cannot do it for them. Our students will have their own timeframes and often even though we cannot see much movement from the outside, there may be an enormous amount of growth happening on the inside.
Tip 1: Listen, Don’t Judge, Before Offering Advice
Just by sitting at the back of the room each week, our student was picking up knowledge from listening to the other speakers and hearing the advice that was given to them by other speakers. Gradually, although he was not yet actively participating, he was starting to be able to offer good advice to new speakers. Consequently, we started to ask him to stand up to offer some of his feedback.
I could see him thinking, ‘I can see how you are trying to trick me into speaking in public!’
Nevertheless, he did so willingly because he understood that what he was being asked to say was for the benefit of the speaker in question and therefore there was less focus on him.
Thus he was already acquiring a lesson that many much more accomplished and confident speakers never seem to learn: that all presentations should be primarily created for the benefit of an audience, not for the benefit of the speaker. And this in itself should take some of the pressure off the speaker.
Once he started speaking regularly he quickly became very accomplished and engaging, because he never lost sight of the fact that the reason he was speaking was because he had something valuable to say, not just because he wanted to say something.
Tip 2: Help the Student take the Focus off Themselves and Put it on their Audience
On the other extreme, I also remember a man who came week after week to the speakers club, who, from the outset, was very keen to get up and speak whenever there was an opportunity, but he never seemed to listen to the valuable advice he was being given by his fellow speakers, which meant that he never improved upon his (admittedly) small speaking faults.
In turn, he never managed to engage his audience as well as the former speaker, because there was always a strong sense that his speeches were more about him than his audience.
I do realise I am in danger of sounding like the biblical parable of The Sower, but in truth, some seeds do take longer to germinate while others spring up rapidly and then never develop further.
The job of the teacher is to provide the best soil.
We know the saying: 'When the student is ready, the teacher will appear', which in reality simply means that when the student is ready to learn he will either start to listen and become open to advice, or he will search around until he finds someone who can give that advice.
It sounds obvious and yet how often do we see people (sometimes in the mirror) who are either unwilling to humble themselves to listen (because they think they already know!) or once they do know, constantly put off the moment of doing (I am not yet ready. Maybe next time, because next time I know I will be brilliant!).
So how do we overcome that very human tendency?
For those students who are not yet ready to learn, we have to step back, resist the temptation to ‘tell’ them, give them space and just be there ready for when they want to know.
We cannot force them to be ready.
And for those who are afraid to try, we need to create a safe environment.
Let them know that no one is sitting in judgement over them.
Tip 3: Create a Safe Environment to Learn and Practice.
In the end, the most effective learning relationship is that of equals, not teacher and student, but two people on a similar journey – maybe you are a bit further down the road, but you are on the same road as your student.
If a student is feeling vulnerable, they want a teacher who has the experience to relate to their situation; they do not want a teacher who seems aloof and unsympathetic to their situation.
I remember delivering presentation skills training to a group of students who all suffered from some form of drug, substance or alcohol addiction.
I was particularly struck by how well the administrative officer organising the event seemed to have a genuine bond of trust with them.
It was only after the third or fourth visit that she explained to me she had had a very high-powered, respected job in the city and lost it all through a cocaine habit.
The bond between them was so strong because it was borne of fellow feelings and empathy.
She was not acting as a detached administrator; she was someone who totally understood in the most profoud sense because she had been where they were now.
So if you are offering public speaking lessons, whether in a club or professionally, it is important not to come across as remote or superior. Make sure the students know that you understand their situation and show how you have been through what they are struggling though.
And make sure you help create an environment where it is safe for everyone to try and if necessary, fail.
Your students will not always be ready to jump in, but make sure that when they are, they know where they can go.
Listen, don’t judge, before offering advice.
Help the student to take the focus off themselves and put it on their audience.
Create a safe environment to learn and practice.