My first experience as a Public Speaking Trainer was in Spain in my late 20s. I was working for a fantastic company that taught English in a very methodical way. They also had a fun summer course for small groups of university students. We had to teach those students (who were chatty but shy with groups) how to speak confidently in a language that they did not yet master. If you are familiar with the Spanish education system, you will know this really is a challenge. But they did it: at the end of that week, they spoke in front of the class with passion. The course was a success.
For the last eight years I have been training and coaching people in public speaking, working in Brussels with professionals, under my own project (www.target-talk.com). I tried my hand at many different group sizes, client groups, in-companies, non profits and also individuals. Let me tell you what I learned about Public speaking courses:
- There is a lot of marketing involved. Compaines and trainers, well-intentioned or not, will try to sell you their course. One thing is to buy a place in a course, and a very different is to get actual value out of it. Be careful. The shiniest course is not always the one that responds to your needs. Marketing is smart in that it uses targeting. For example: Are you a bald man in your 50s? Then this is the course for you! Beware of courses that are tailored based on some random fact that has nothing to do with the content and purpose of your speaking in public.
- Theory is just as important as practise. Never be fooled into this cliche thinking that "learning theory is boring". As a professional who wants to speak with ease, you need to be open to discovering the new developments in psychology. In the last 50 years or so researchers have learned so much about anxiety, attention, emotions and the like. All of these findings are theoretical but they are highly applicable to your issues with public speaking. Be strong = be knowledgeable. If you get out of the course armed with new info you did not know before, you know this was a course with value.
- Practise is useful when done in a small setting, with consistency and with individual and honest feedback. No matter how much you want all of that to happen, it will usually not be possible in a one day course (with more than six participants). I have done groups with 12 people, and we had to divide them in two just so that eveyrbody would get some actual speaking practise. This was not very effective as the feedback the participants recieved was rushed. Small groups of 6 work better.
- Big groups are not the answer. If there was a course where you could eventually learn how to speak in front of a really big group, like 200 people, I would advise you to take it. But those courses are rare. Public speaking is not like a game of survival. You don't get better at it because you are thrown at the deep end. Start small. If you are speaking to three people, and you can egnage that "small but significant" audience and stay present with them, move to bigger groups and then increase.
- Group courses cannot compare with the benefits of working with your own coach.If you are working in a company and you all have a training-that makes sense. The effective trainer will tailor the content to your needs as speakers of a certain organisation and cause. As an individual, it may seem expensive to hire your own public speaking coach (if you pay out of pocket). It could be anywhere from 500 to 2000 euro for a package. (Beware of public speaking coaching packages costing you more than that!) However, if you really want to improve as a speaker, you need to have a safe space where you can get constructive and relevant feedback with tips on what to do to improve. You need to work on the content that is uniquely yours, and not just speak on general topics. You need a coach who challenges you (does not often happen in a group with lots of very different participants), and who is creative enough to propose solutions out of the box. You need more than a "fun day out" with other like-minded people. You need to have a plan.