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Can public speaking be learned?

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Speakers aren’t born, they are made

Can you learn public speaking? Or are there some people who were born to be speakers and others who were born to only stay away from the speaking platform because they are so atrocious and so awful? Well, thankfully the answer is that yes, you can learn public speaking. You certainly can. My name is Shola Kaye. I’m a professional speaker and a speaker coach, and somebody who used to be horrific at public speaking. And I learned just, as you can learn too. Why is there this idea that some people are just born to speak on other aren’t? Well, and then there’s this myth that some people are just … They’re charismatic, they popped out of the womb making speeches. And perhaps they’re extroverts, they’re naturally quite lively and engaging. And there’s this idea that some people have it and other people don’t. But I really want you to get rid of that idea because it’s something that everybody can learn. Some of the top, top speakers out there are people who once were trembling and quavering and not very good at it.

You can succeed if you’re willing to put in the time, effort and work

I heard a story about Barack Obama once about how as a Congressman, he was getting some help from a speaking coach because he was seen as someone who had potential, but didn’t have a very good speaking skills. Other business owners I know who are excellent speakers put the time in. They had to put the time, and effort, and work in to improve. And you totally can. It’s one of those things where the more you do it, the better you get. So please don’t think that there’s a them and us. And some people can, some people can’t. I’ve given presentations before on public speaking and I’ve had people come up at the end and say, “Shola, thank you so much. I always thought that there were those people who could speak and those that couldn’t, and I was one that couldn’t speak.” And through listening to some tips and some skills and insights, they realized that public speaking is certainly available to them and that they can be a decent speaker.

Don’t worry about ‘not being a natural’ – the key is getting the right help

So if you’re worried that you’re one of those people who was born not a particularly good speaker, then first of all, let the worry disappear because you can improve and you can become a decent speaker. And then the next thing is really how to get started. Some people will jump straight in and they’ll join something like Toastmasters, or they’ll join a class and they’re ready to learn. And that’s brilliant. Other people feel that they’re so awkward around speaking that they don’t necessarily want to jump straight in with other people. They want to learn a few skills by themselves first, or even get a coach and work one to one with a coach and pick up some basic skills, or maybe even read a book. Get some basic skills in place before they then go and start to speak in front of other people. Now, if we’re in the workplace, quite often, we don’t have the luxury of that because we’re thrown in and asked to speak anyway. So sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not so good.

Practise on your own and in front of an audience

But the important thing is that it’s a combination of learning insights and skills, but also putting them into practice. So you might think, “Well, I’m just going to learn by myself at home and practice in front of the mirror.” And that can help. That can definitely help. But there’s nothing like being in front of a living breathing audience who are there, sitting there, looking at you, waiting to hear what you’ve got to say. There’s nothing like that. There are apps that try and duplicate it. I forget the name of the app. There was an app that it was a virtual reality app and you’d have to put the goggles on and they had people in a room and you were the person speaking. And then you see people coughing and shifting and all those things that people do that can throw you off track. So apps like that may help. Even starting your speaking on Zoom where you’re not in the same room, and perhaps you can just get rid of the view of the other people and just look in the camera. That can help as well.

Public speaking can be learned

But of course, there’s nothing like getting in front of a real audience and going for it, and practicing in front of them. So yes, yes, yes. Public speaking can certainly be learned. And as I say, as someone who was an awful speaker, I remember once speaking at a friend’s birthday party. He landed it all of us, said, “Oh, can you all say a few words?” And I remember dreading the moment when it came to me and me having to say a few words. And when the moment did come, I remember I was awful, shambolic. It was shameful or embarrassing how poor I was. Lots of ums and ahs, didn’t know what to say. What I said was really boring. No beginning, no ending. It just started and then just fizzled out. And I laugh now because my speaking has moved on from then. I hope that one day you can learn too. You can look back at this question, “Can public speaking be learned?” And then you look back and you think, “Oh my goodness, where am I now compared to where I was when I asked that question?” Because most certainly, you can learn.

Becoming a speaker can change your life

Anyone can learn public speaking skills and they will change your life. That’s not the subject of this video, but public speaking skills can change your life in terms of confidence, leadership ability, the way other people see you. Not being afraid anymore to be in meetings and things can totally transform everything. So go for it. If you’re curious about learning public speaking, sign up for Toastmasters, get in touch with me. I’ve got some online courses that you can try. I run workshops from time to time, I do one to one coaching. So get in touch, find a coach and go for it. Or a class and go for it.

Shola Kaye is an award-winning speaker, author and professional speaker coach with clients around the world. Her work has been mentioned in Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and on the BBC.
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