This text is a direct polemic to the article originally posted on Forbes.com – “Confessions of a Former Public Speaking Trainer: Don't Waste Your Money” by Kristi Hedges. I highly recommend to read that article beforehand – the overall point, or maybe more accurately, the intention is spot on and worthy of consideration.
The lie of omission – not all public speaking training is about stiff technique
I understand that the overall point of that cited article is that some people waste their money to fix something that isn’t exactly broken. Likewise, I get that some coaches are more "bullshit artists" than public speaking trainers, hence it is more reasonable to put more emphasis on self-education first than to throw thousands of dollars at them. Yet in the article itself the main reason presented is that there's something wrong with the industry and people are taught the same stiff techniques every time. Yet somehow the best speeches we experience stray from those exact techniques.
I mean, come on! There are maybe two coaches in the world that would go down the road of teaching in the way it is presented in the article. Furthermore, I cannot imagine any single executive agreeing to such washed-up training. From my experience as a political publicist, a ghost writer and a public speaking trainer the problem is the entire way around. Former sales people now are selling a product practically without overhead – public speaking courses/consultations. Since selling and presenting products was a second nature for them, the vast majority of professionals available will drool over Steve Jobs, TED and whatever imperfect perfection you could find, to teach you “authenticity” in speech delivery. “Look, he is not using any of the bad and stiff techniques that are recommended for most open communication, and yet we gravitate to products of Apple” – they will propose. “This guy is wearing old and saggy suit, his body language is closed, yet his point resonates with us” – they will talk about Ken Robinson’s performance on the TED Talk stage. Somehow we forget that Steve’s [Jobs] authenticity came from a great buildup prepared by an entire staff of marketing specialists, whole scenarios that were always rehearsed and prepared through weeks of sweat and tears and yeah, wearing the same clothes is very authentic, same goes for the famous “and one more thing” at the end of each presentation – I bet every conversation with him ended that way. Ken Robinson? That guy ate his teeth being a teacher – basically he made similar TED Talk every day since he graduated. That is a lot of time to prepare and polish his timing, voice tonality and a kind of a natural and laconic body language.
For the people who need public speaking training such emphasis on “authenticity” is harmful
Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do – meaning that there is a time and place for naturally shy and more private people to shine on the tamped parquet before any kind of audience. There is also a lot of more extroverted people who are just uncertain of their abilities to present. And there are the people which you can categorize as a mix of those two types.
To be able to teach someone anything, the first step should always be to audit their abilities. Only then you can choose a matching framework. In this sense public speaking as a skill is nothing different than math, dance, web development, welding or muscle building. “People know how to communicate authentically, and present ideas in their own naturally effective way. You do it all the time with friends and family members. It’s when we’re under stress and in anxiety-filled situations that we forget what we already know.” – Opinion presented in that direct citation is just plainly wrong or dishonest. Putting aside extreme examples and philosophical questions about “if the man speaks inside great wilderness when no one can hear him, is he still wrong?” in the most comfortable situations you can clearly see differences in peoples’ effectiveness in communication. And going back to the lone tree in the forest making sound while falling – public speaking training is in a part about growing ones comfort zone beyond what was comfortable before to the size of what one thinks is useful. And furthermore, how can we assume that everybody feels comfortable persuading even such close people as family and friends?
I believe in honest intentions of Ms. Hedges – point being that I too think that too many people are paying too much for too little value (or even for harmful practices). That being said, the author of the article separated himself from the rest of the rotten kinship to sell the book. I’m sorry, but we have a lie of omission, argumentum at auditorem (“It will be easier and more authentic, you also won’t have to spend so much” – so there’s also argumentum ab utili) and labelling technique (public speaking training is about this and that). I just hope the book itself is worth of such an aggressive marketing.