In my public speaking classes, one of the first things I teach is that you won’t improve your speaking skills unless you get up in front of an audience and speak. I was sharing this story recently at a networking event and a friend said to me “wait a second, don’t you sell CDs and books about speaking?” When I confirmed that I did, he asked then how do I expect anyone to buy them.
Now you’re probably wondering “okay, wise guy, how did you get yourself out of this one?” Actually, he raised a good point and got a conversation going. I explained that books and audio programs (and DVDs for that matter) are simply tools and like any tools, when they’re used correctly can help you do things quicker and easier. I brought up exercising and asked him if he ever watched a show or read a book or magazine about fitness. He confirmed he did. I then asked him if they helped him get into shape.
I talk about exercising in my speaking classes because both are very similar from a personal development standpoint (not to mention I’m passionate about both subjects). With speaking and exercising, you won’t improve unless you physically perform the action. And if you don’t keep doing both regularly, your gains will start to fade away.
So just like taking a fitness class can help you get in shape, taking a public speaking class can make you better speaker. However, taking a speaking class where you don’t get to get up and speak is like taking an aerobics class where you just sit and watch the instructor. Yes you can learn some techniques, but you’re not going to gain anything unless you physically practice what you’ve learned.
Another parallel between the two topics is that bad instruction can harm you. Using the wrong technique in weightlifting an damage your body. Following bad advice when giving a talk can damage your reputation or career. Which brings me to the point of why I created these programs to begin with – there is a lot of bad advice out there for speakers. I’ve sat through numerous programs on speaking from Toastmasters to Dale Carnegie to dozens of so called “presentation experts.” The latter group by far produced some of the worst advice I’ve ever seen – some was so bad, I actually spoke to other attendees afterwards to give them different advice to help them avert disaster.
I’m not a fan of any one-size-fits all program when it comes to personal development. The more mass-marketed a program is, the less credible it becomes in my mind. We’re all different so that needs to be considered. In my speaking class, one topic I go over is how to memorize an ordered list – this is to help remember the main points of a speech or a list that needs to be recited. I teach two different methods and encourage people to try both and see which one works better for them. Throughout all my courses, I teach more than one way to do something to compensate for the fact that people are different.
So provided that the book or audio program contains good material, it can help you become a better speaker. But only if you take what you’ve learned and get up in front of an audience and speak.