What is the identified issue?

I am currently running a survey in my LinkedIn community to find out more about how people perceive themselves as speakers and what their speaking needs are. I am going to use the results to build game-changing content for a four-month long Master Class that I will be launching this fall. Out of the 50 people who have responded so far, I am seeing an interesting trend… When asked which sentence best describes their experiences as speakers, the majority (55%) have answered:

“After I speak, I know that I could have done better, but I don’t know what needs to be improved or how to fix it.”

This fascinating answer inspires me to write this article…

What are people doing?

I notice that many speakers are doing what I call do-it-yourself (D.I.Y) public speaking, using a patch-work of resources like YouTube videos, books and podcasts, to “fix” their perceived speaking problems. [Disclaimer – I contribute to these resources myself as a way to create awareness about what I do and the art of effective public speaking]. As tantalizing as these resources are, they don’t go deep enough. They can’t, because they are not designed that way.

These tools are a helpful means to get a few quick tips and techniques, like a new breathing skill here or a great idea about how to tell a story there, but they are created to be public speaking “fast food”; quick and superficially filling, but not nutritious. There is no slow-release of nutrients to give your body what it needs to grow and thrive. The knowledge is shallow and temporary, not “internalized” and fused into your bones.

On top of that, these fast food public speaking solutions are not personalized. They don’t take you and all of your uniqueness into account. How could they? They are a one-way-street of information flowing from the video, book or podcast into your eyes and ears. There is no return ticket and nothing bounces back. Absent a meaningful interaction, they remain generic and non-specific and don’t really hit the mark. Many people I know who try to nourish themselves with these solutions are left feeling “Meh!”, only half-full and thus, determinately go searching for more.

So, what’s the problem?

I find that too many people try to improve themselves as speakers by “self-medicating” on a hodge-podge diet of public speaking fast food. The result is that they go nowhere, fast. I often receive clients who have taken one-off public speaking courses here and there, own a library of books about public speaking and who watch YouTube tutorials on the subject religiously, but…who aren’t particularly good speakers.

When I meet clients like this, I often chuckle (not in a mean way) to myself and remember the time when I met a guy who was trying to learn how to figure skate. Being deeply interested in this sport myself, I asked him how he trained. He said that he read books about how to skate. I laughed out loud in disbelief at his response.

I’m here to tell you that reading books to learn how to figure skate, like reading books (watching videos and listening to podcasts) to learn how to speak in public…doesn’t work! At best, like I said earlier, you’ll get a few good tips and some motivation, but Folks, you learn these types of skills by involving your entire being, from head to toe in the experience, over time. You need to smell it, feel it, taste it, hear it and see it, using all of your senses, over and over and over again. You need to spend countless hours on the ice so that moving around on it becomes second-nature.  You need to fall, so that you can figure out how to get up and do something differently so that you avoid falling the next time. You need to experience the exhilaration of gliding so that your body wants to relive this bliss all the time.

In addition to these essential components and if you are serious about making real progress, whether it’s on the ice or in public speaking, you should find a first-rate coach whose work you admire. Someone who is currently speaking the way you see yourself speaking in the future. Someone who is “living in their own learning” and continuing to develop themselves as speakers. Success leaves clues and this person should have clues that you feel pulled towards wanting to pick-up and follow.

You should also look for a robust training program with a good student to teacher ratio (no giant seminars with too many people), which supports your personal growth over time. This last part is really important! Do not be seduced or fooled by the quick-fix solutions that are out there, marketed to the masses. While they are great ways to learn what the toolbox is, they can’t teach you how to implement the toolbox. This has to take place with a “high-touch” approach over time because, as I have hopefully made clear by now, we humans need to do something over and over again and ideally, with the right guidance in order to learn it well.


I hope that I have bent your ear enough for you to understand that if you are serious about learning the skills that you need to take your speaking to the highest levels, D.I.Y public speaking is insufficient. Use it for a few good tips and motivation and inspiration, but don’t get stuck spending your time, money or effort on quick-fix solutions, which aren’t personalized and don’t nourish you over time. Go deep to learn deep! Or as Neale Donald Walsch says: “Life [Learning] begins at the end of your comfort zone.”


Laura Penn, Ph.D. is disrupting the status-quo for public speaking. As Founder and CEO of The Public Speaking School, award-winning international speaker, author and professional speaker coach, she empowers speakers on camera, in classrooms, in boardrooms and on stages around the world, to deliver the best talks of their lives.

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