Frequently Asked Questions About Public Speaking and Presentations

Doug Staneart  |  06/23/20
last updated

Frequently Asked Questions

When folks are having challenges with public speaking, they will often contact us with questions. Since all of our consultants are both professional presenters and public speaking coaches, we thought it might be a good idea to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions. Perhaps the answer here could help you when you deliver your next speech or presentation. If you have additional questions, complete the form at the bottom of the page. We do our best to reply with an answer!

Public Speaking and Presentation Skills FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

Do public speaking courses work?

So, do public speaking classes really work? The answer is both “yes” and “no.” Yes, public speaking classes are the absolute best way to develop public speaking confidence and skill. But, it really depends on the class that you take and the instructor who is teaching the class.

Public speaking is a skill. Skills take time and practice to develop. However, if you use the trial and error method to learn a skill, it can take a lot of time. Attending a good public speaking class taught by a professional speaker can shorten your learning curve exponentially.

The Type of School Is Important to Increasing Your Chance of Success.

For instance, if you want to have a lucrative career as an attorney, you have a few choices. On one extreme, you could study law at home, in your spare time. After years of study, you can try to pass the Bar in your state. The odds of you succeeding this way are pretty low, though. If you do get your license, it will be much harder to develop a thriving law practice.

Alternatively, you could attend Harvard Law School. If you get your degree, the odds of passing the Bar is much higher. In fact, even if you finish in the bottom of the class, your odds of establishing a lucrative law career are much higher.

So, if the study-at-home person is successful, does that mean that law schools don’t work? Also, if a person graduates from Harvard Law but can’t pass the bar exam is it because the class didn’t work? Of course not. The type of class that you attend is important to increase the chance of success.

Public speaking skills are very similar. Yes, you can learn them on your own, but it is more challenging. If you attend a lower quality school, it will likely be better than no school. However, the high the quality of training that you receive, the more likely you will be to succeed in developing the new skill.

What is the best public speaking course?

Determining the best public speaking course really depends on the results that you want to achieve. For instance, the reason why we call our class Fearless Presentations ® is that we specialize in helping people reduce public speaking fear. I and my team of instructors are excellent at helping people reduce public speaking fear. In fact, we average five out of five stars from our customers. So, are we the best in the world at it? Well, I think so, but I’m highly biased.

The word “best” is really just someone’s opinion. So, identifying the absolute best public speaking class would just be a recitation of opinions. It would be like trying to identify the best car or best athletic shoe.

A better question to ask is to add a qualifier to the question. For instance, I was having foot pain a couple of years ago. I went to a running store and told the salesperson about my problem and asked what shoe he recommended. He brought out a pair of Mizuno runners. I had never heard of this brand of shoes before. After wearing them for a couple of months, my foot pain went away.

The best shoe for me was dependant on the challenge that I had. The best public speaking course for you will also depend on the specific need that you have. (Just for fun, type “best public speaking class to deliver fearless presentations” into Google and see what happens.)

What is it like to take a speech communication course?

If you have a really good public speaking coach and the content being taught is well defined, a speech communication course can be an ideal controlled environment in which to practice. The most challenging thing about learning to speak in front of a group is that you have to practice… well… in front of a group.

If you are nervous about presenting, and your audience is difficult or judgemental, your nervousness can increase. This is why public speaking fear levels in the US are so high. For many of us, the first time that we have to give a presentation is in High School. Students are required to deliver book reports to a highly critical audience (a high school class) about a book that they likely never read. This is very hard to overcome.

A speech course, though, is more of a controlled environment. The entire class is focused on getting better at one thing — presenting a good speech. No one is expected to be perfect, and as the course continues each student gets better and better.

A good analogy would be like practicing driving in a school parking lot on the weekend. The parking lot is a controlled environment where something negative is less likely to happen. As the student’s confidence grows, he or she will be less nervous when they take the car through a neighborhood. Then later, they will practice on a highway. (You don’t start on the highway.)

What is the best way to improve my public speaking skills?

The best way to improve public speaking skills — really the ONLY way to improve public speaking skills is to practice and have a series of successes. Think of public speaking fear like a credit card debt. Every time your practice and have a success, it is like making a payment. Every time you have a challenge with public speaking, the balance increases. If you just avoid speaking in front of a group, it is like skipping payments. Over time, the balance increases more and more.

If all you do is read blog posts or watch YouTube videos about public speaking, it is like making the minimum payment. You may not increase your nervousness, but you likely won’t decrease it a lot either. However, once you watch the video or read the post and then use the technique in a speech the needle will move. If the technique works really well, you will be reducing the balance in the account. If you try the technique and it doesn’t quite work as you want, you might actually increase your nervousness.

That is why a good coach can be helpful. A coach can help you make adjustments so that potential pitfalls turn into massive successes.

Are public speaking classes boring?

Well, for the most part… yes. But, the reason is that just because someone is a good speaker doesn’t mean that he or she will be a good coach.

In college, I was required to take a speech class called Business Communications. It was a lab class taught by a graduate student. She was very nice and was a pretty good speaker. However, she used a lecture technique to give us information. Then, every week, a few students would give a speech, and she would critique them. Her lecture wasn’t that exciting. In addition, the speeches from the students were pretty boring too. As a result, the whole class was pretty blah.

When I created Fearless Presentations ®, I want to make sure that none of our students ever experienced anything like that in our classes. So, I designed the class to be informative, interesting, and entertaining. People tend to learn more, faster, and retain content longer if they are having fun.

Our technique is really simple. We teach a simple component of how to deliver a fantastic presentation. While teaching this component, we actually use it ourselves to make the class more entertaining. Then, we coach the participants in the class to adapt the component technique in their own presentations. This way, when they begin to speak in class, their presentations are easier to deliver and more interesting. Once the group masters that component part of a speech, we add something to the process that is just a little more difficult, and we do it again.

The technique works 100% of the time. In fact, I was teaching a virtual public speaking class last week, and the comments at the end were things like, “Oh my God, we’re done? I can’t believe how fast time flew.” Another said, “That was so much fun. I can’t believe how much we covered.”

So, yes, most public speaking classes are very boring. So, look for a class like Fearless Presentations ® that is fun and entertaining, and you will get much better results.

How to improve public speaking skills in English?

In full disclosure, I am not a speech therapist, and I have never been trained to help people with accent reduction. However, over the years, I’ve had a couple of them as instructors for our classes. In fact, we have designed specific classes that were created to help ESL (English as a Second Language) improve public speaking skills. After testing the classes and delivering them to a few client companies, we figured out that the regular Fearless Presentations ® class worked better than the accent reduction classes at reducing a foreign accent.

Here is what we discovered along the way. Unless they have had some great training, people tend to get nervous when they speak in front of a group. If the speaker is delivering the presentation in a foreign language, the nervousness tends to be much higher. When nervousness increases, the human brain tends to want to gravitate toward something familiar. This causes a foreign accent to be much more pronounced when a speaker is nervous.

What we have found is that if we help the speaker reduce the nervousness, the symptoms of nervousness drops. A confident speaker is more clear and understandable. So going through a structured program to reduce nervousness is the best way to improve public speaking skills in English.

Years ago, CapitalOne was hiring a lot of employees from India, China, and various other parts of the world. From time to time, communication challenges occurred because of the language barrier. So, they had me come in once every couple-of-months to deliver presentation classes for their teams. They were using the public speaking class as a way to give their employees practice speaking in English. It seemed to work very well.

What makes a good public speaking class?

You can judge the effectiveness of a public speaking class pretty easily, actually. I use three metrics to judge whether a public speaking class is good or not.

    1. The first metric is practice.

The main thing that causes public speaking fear is lack of practice. In some cases, this lack of practice is caused by the fear. (I’m nervous, so I just avoid speaking.) In most cases, though, we just present so infrequently that it is tough to develop the skill. If you understand that, it is easy to see how the more practice that class members get, the better the class will tend to work. So, the first thing I look at when I judge a public speaking class is how much the facilitator talks and how much the class members talk.

    1. The second metric is the level of coaching.

Poor public speaking coaches use critiques to try to get class members to improve. You may be familiar with this technique. It is where the teacher will give an assignment, tell the class what to do, have them do it, then tell them different things that they did wrong in order to get them to improve. (This technique is terrible, by the way.) A better coach would help the class member improve BEFORE he or she gets up in front of the group.

    1. The third metric is the entertainment value.

People tend to learn more, faster, and retain content longer if they are having fun. We also learn by doing, not by listening and taking notes. For instance, you can watch a YouTube video about how to paint a wall. However, you will only gain the skill by actually painting a wall. So, if the class members aren’t enjoying the process, they will likely not get a great result.

How to improve my child’s public speaking skills?

As parents, we all want the best for our kids. We feel pain when we see them unhappy. So, I totally understand why a parent would want to help a kid become more comfortable in an uncomfortable situation like public speaking. However, if you push too hard as a parent, you might actually make your child more nervous. (So be careful.)

In most cases, a child just needs to gain experience. School organizations are a great place to practice. when I was a kid, I was incredibly shy. In High School, though, I participated in a couple of activities that helped an awful lot. The first was Drama. It gave me practice in front of a group and also introduced techniques to reduce nervousness. Another organization was the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The group itself didn’t really help me reduce my nervousness, but I was elected as an officer. So, I got to practice speaking at every meeting for a semester.

One of my instructors told me that he got fantastic public speaking training in FFA (Future Farmers of America.) The organization actually hired professional public speaking coaches to train the kids.

Over the years, we have had many teenagers go through our Fearless Presentations ® class. I taught a class in New York once that had a senior in High School and her younger brother who was a freshman. They attended a class that had stockbrokers, managers, and salespeople. The adults were very supportive of the teens, and the young people loved the class. One of the class members told them, “I wish that I had done this when I was your age. You are going to have a tremendous advantage in the business world.” I agree.

What are a few ways to improve my writing and communication skills?

Communication skills are communication skills. So whether you are writing or speaking, the process and techniques are very similar. Some people will say, “I feel like I’m a pretty good speaker, but I hate to write.” Others will say, “I feel much more comfortable writing than speaking.” The truth is that if you are skilled in one area, you will likely excel at the other as well.

The technique that we teach in our public speaking classes is to organize a clear and “audience-focused” presentation outline. Once you have a good outline, use examples to reinforce each main point in that outline. Finally, add in what we call “impact ideas” like analogies, good visual aids, etc.

Guess what? When you are writing something, you should start with a “reader-focused” outline. Then add in examples and stories to reinforce the main points of the outline. Then, add in impact ideas to add credible content. The technique is almost identical.

In fact, some of our presenters at The Leader’s Institute ® will design a great presentation, record it. Then, they will have the recording transcribed to create a blog post or a chapter of a book. Others will write a post or chapter first, then use the content from the written material as a speech or presentation.

Both techniques work well. It really just depends on what you think you are better at to determine your starting point.

How do I really know if your class is going to work for me?

The main question (both spoken and unspoken) that we get from folks who call us asking about our programs is, “How do I know if your class will work for me?” In this question, we come full circle from the first question. The answer is, “It really depends on what you need to fix.”

Our class is really designed to help people reduce public speaking nervousness. So, if you feel uncomfortable when you deliver presentations and want to eliminate that nervousness, our class is a good fit for you.

I’m a big Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fan. If you ever watch the introductions before a UFC fight, you will notice that many of the fighters train in Boca Rato, FL. Boca Raton is where American Top Team (ATT) trains. ATT has some of the most elite coaches and training programs in the world. As a result, they have trained a number of world-champion athletes.

The question is, do these world-class athletes choose to train at ATT because of the coaches and programs? Or, do the world-class coaches create the elite athletes? The answer is… Both. No matter what your skill level, if you train at ATT, your skill will grow and will grow quickly.

Our company is very similar. There is a reason why hundreds of Fortune 500 companies trust us to train their people. And because we work with so many of these awesome companies, we are able to hire some of the best coaches in the world. So, if you attend one of our classes, no matter what your skill level, you will get better.

If You Have a Question About Public Speaking, Let Us Know.

author Doug Staneart
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Doug Staneart is the CEO of The Leader's Institute. LLC and founder of the Fearless Presentations class. He is author of Fearless Presentations, Mastering Presentations, and 28 Ways to Influence People.

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