If you want help with your public speaking, taking some lessons or enrolling on a course is the most efficient and effective way to learn what you need to know and to hone your skills. Across the UK, individual coaches and training companies offer an array of public speaking courses to corporate and private clients: in-house courses, open courses, group courses, one-to-one coaching, two-day courses, half-day courses, flexible training. How can you tell what sort of course would benefit you most?
Here are a few thoughts to help you decide which of the plethora of public speaking courses available would suit you best.
Public Speaking Courses for Groups vs One-to-One Coaching
Because public speaking by definition involves addressing a number of people, it seems logical to learn presentation/public speaking skills in a group. One-to-one public speaking training seems counter-intuitive, a contradiction in terms. But let’s look more closely.
Over the twenty-five years or so that I’ve been teaching public speaking skills, I’ve worked with large groups, small groups and a wide range of individual clients. My experience suggests group courses are not, in fact, as effective as individual coaching.
Group courses can provide a useful overview and introduction to public speaking. For a confident participant with some experience of speaking in public, this can be enough. More diffident participants may need more training and support than is available to them in a group setting. This is partly because of the dynamics and potential difficulties involved in any group – the more forceful characters dominating proceedings, some members of the group having more experience and/or natural aptitude for public speaking than others, the more nervous members afraid to take risks in front of their colleagues, and so on.
If your colleagues on the course are your colleagues at work, this can either help or hinder your progress, depending on your relationship with them. It may be easier to take risks among people you know and feel comfortable with than in a group of strangers. Alternatively, you may feel freer with people you don’t know, who will not be talking about the course in the canteen over the next few days or weeks.
In theory, we can learn from the successes and mistakes of the others in the group as well as our own. There is some truth in this but, in reality, if I have already had my turn I’m probably replaying my own performance in my mind, rather than concentrating on the next person’s. If I haven’t yet had my turn, it’s almost impossible for me to think about anyone else. As with all practical skills, we learn best by doing it, not watching others.
For the participant out there speaking, it can be useful to have a live audience – provided the group is supportive, provided the performance goes well. It may sound strange but, actually, having a group of people playing audience not only is unnecessary but in many cases can even inhibit learning.
What a public speaking course is (or should be) teaching is not how to stand up and speak in front of a group, per se, but the techniques required to make a success of this: how to stand, how to move, how to speak clearly, how to make one’s voice interesting and easy to listen to, how to engage the audience, etc. These skills are just as easily (I believe more easily) taught on a one-to-one basis as in a group. As the only participant, you get all the attention and the training is customised to your specific needs.
The Benefits of Group Public Speaking Courses
For confident characters comfortable with each other, who simply require guidance as to how to approach public speaking, a group course can be a quick way of giving them what they need. Instead of one-to-one coaching being a process drawn out over a week or so, 20 colleagues can all get some training in one day. It will not be as deep as an individual session would have been, but it will give them a good overview and point them in the right direction.
Another benefit to collective training is it can be a bonding experience. It’s a chance to share a degree of vulnerability and support each other, to see colleagues in a slightly different light and get to know them better.
The Benefits of One-to-One Public Speaking Courses
The unavoidable premise of group courses is that ‘one size fits all’, whereas one-to-one training is focused, personalised and flexible. The two huge pluses to individual coaching are 1) the time and space to practise and 2) the privacy to discuss and work through anxiety.
For people who are really nervous, one to one is the way to go. Learn the techniques before you have to face an audience!
As an additional advantage, it suits many clients who may not wish anyone to know they’re getting help to improve their public speaking.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Public Speaking Skills?
Obviously, there is no definitive answer to this – it depends on many factors, including how many participants there on the course, how much experience they’ve got and what level they’re aiming to reach.
As with any training, the more people are attending, the longer the course needs to be to achieve the same result. This is because, as I’ve said above, we all learn best by doing it and each individual must have at least one opportunity to present. I’ve done half-day courses with 10 participants and they’ve all learnt enough to make the training worthwhile but really, with more than 4 or 5 participants, a whole day is better. With more than 10, a two-day course allows everyone more time to consolidate their new skills.
One-to-one coaching scores again here because you can book one session at a time and see how it goes. The majority of my clients need simply to be shown the techniques – and then to practise them, with my feedback and support, until they begin to come naturally. Often, we achieve this in an hour and a half. Some clients take two or three 90-minute sessions to feel safe in the spotlight but it’s very rare anyone needs more.
Finding the Right Public Speaking Course for You
Public speaking courses are not all the same. If you’re struggling with public speaking and you’ve been on a course that either didn’t help or actually made you feel worse, all this means is you haven’t found the right course. It’s not you, it’s the course! With a different group – or by yourself – with a different trainer, you will get a different result.
Anyone and everyone can succeed at public speaking, even introverted and shy people, as this article attests. Of course, we all have more aptitude in some areas than others, but if you’re motivated to learn and you’re making an effort, if you don’t make progress the fault is in the teaching, not with you.
You can be good at public speaking, it’s purely a question of finding the right coaching and support.
More Information about Public Speaking Courses
To find out more about the public speaking courses I offer, please see the main Public Speaking Coaching page. I don’t run open courses but I provide one-to-one and group training for individuals and organisations up and down the UK.