“I took a public speaking course.”

August 13, 2012 in Author, Dale Ludwig, Delivery, Myths Debunked, Presentation, Training

I went to the theatre last night to see a performance of “Here Lies Henry,” a play by Daniel MacIvor. Full disclosure: I’m on the board of the company producing the play. But don’t worry, this is not a plug for this production or the company producing it. Rather, this is about something that happens in the first few moments of the play, something that makes me laugh and cringe.

One of Henry’s first lines is, “I took a public speaking course.” He then starts listing what he learned, “One, don’t say ‘um.’ Two, never apologize. Three, don’t say ‘anyway.’” Henry can’t remember the fourth thing he learned, which causes him to flounder, say “um,” apologize for it, and then say “anyway.” The audience laughed as Henry broke every rule and struggled to untie the knots his training left him in.

This was a funny bit in the show, but Henry’s experience is a pretty fair representation of what happens in a lot of public speaking courses. That’s what makes me cringe.

Henry and many other real-life presenters have been taught to focus on the symptoms of their nervousness. This leads to an obsessive concern with the number of ums they might say or the types of gestures or movement they use. The underlying assumption with this approach is that there are some things presenters should always do and other things they should never do.

If you’ve ever participated in one of our workshops, you know that one of our goals is to put an end to this. We encourage people to throw out any rule that gets in the way of the conversation that must take place during a presentation. We ask presenters to focus their energy on the skills that work for them, not the symptoms of their nervousness. Once they’ve done that, the conversation starts and nervousness—along with its symptoms—goes away.

The class Henry took had it backwards—a good reminder to all of us that improving your presentations is all about knowing where to start.

by Dale Ludwig, President and Trainer at Turpin Communication