After stumbling upon this article by Kirsti Hedges, I found myself nodding in agreement for most of the time when reading it. The bottom line is: don’t waste your money on public speaking trainings, because they transform you into an unauthentic speaker that uses the same robotic tricks as everybody else who follows a similar course. Focus on your own innate ability to speak in public instead.
Of those two statements, I’d say the first one is partly false, and the second one is true.
Imagine you want to learn to play guitar. You know the instrument has six strings and that the strings make sound, and it doesn’t take much research to figure out how to transform that sound with the placing of your fingers. Still, you’d probably agree that it wouldn’t hurt to take some guitar lessons to understand how chords work (they work the same for everyone), how to use a plectrum (they’re commonly used) and different ways of playing (generally known) rhythms. Then, what forms your authenticity as a guitar player is your own unique interpretation of which of those tools to use, and when and how to use them. You choose your personal musical direction and style because you know your instrument and you know its possibilities.
When I first started my songwriting degree, I now and then felt a bit of resistance against all the ‘rules’ about what makes a good song and a good songwriter. Claiming that a theoretical approach would kill the creative one, I wasn’t eager to analyse what I was doing. I was looking to channel emotions, not calculate melodies. Looking back now, I’m so grateful for diving into several different methods and perspectives of songwriting and music theory. Having much background knowledge provides you with a lot to choose from when it comes to creating something.
Compare it to a painter who only knows how to paint in red and blue and makes pretty nice art doing it that way. Then, when he decides to develop his style and starts painting with a whole palet of colors, he might in time realize that nothing suits him better than red and blue - but mixing it with a little bit of the other colors he learned to use along the way, the red and blue fall in place much better. He now knows what he is doing, drops what doesn’t work for him, and emphasizes his strengths and talents, because there is a context now.
Back to public speaking (and the same goes for performance, storytelling and creative writing). While I absolutely agree with Hedges that a lot of trainings are dull, impersonal and based on the same old tricks, I disagree with stating that therefore trainings are a waste of time and money. It’s all about finding the trainings that suit you, and within those trainings, finding the methods that suit you.
As a songwriter, I developed my unique writing style by combining the use of chords, melodies and rhythm in a way that works best for me and supports my personal vision: it’s a choice. As a singer, Desirée has been training her voice for years discovering and testing different techniques, only to combine them in a specific way only she can: by choice. As a public speaker, you can only find and develop your personal style by unraveling the methods that suit you and then emphasize those strengths: it’ll be your choice, if you know what to choose from. And if you know what your options are, you will also know which ones to neglect, and train yourself in a more effective way.
Good trainings help you find out what to choose and how to go from there. It’s like playing guitar: a good guitar teacher will first teach you the fundamental theories and methods of guitar playing and let you test several techniques and styles. Meanwhile, he’ll recognize what you’re good at and what you want and need, and stimulate just that. And that makes learning easier, faster and to be frank, much more fun.