Public Speaking Courses, Toastmasters, and Self Study Options for Developing Public Speaking Skills

There are many different ways of learning public speaking. In this post I give my view of what is offered by each of the common options.

Public Speaking Options

Toastmasters

Toastmasters is a nonprofit organization with “nearly 235,000 members in 11,700 clubs in 92 countries, offering a proven – and enjoyable! – way to practice and hone communication and leadership skills.

Participants practice and learn skills by filling a meeting role, ranging from giving a prepared speech or an impromptu one to serving as timer, evaluator or grammarian.

There is no instructor; instead, each speech and meeting is critiqued by a member in a positive manner, focusing on what was done right and what could be improved.” (Toastmasters web site)

Therein lies the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of Toastmasters, it’s run by volunteers – who not surprisingly are referred to as Toastmasters.

If you have members that are experienced, knowledgeable and actively involved in your club, then you’ll learn and gain much. If you don’t then this won’t happen, at least it won’t for a while because the knowledge and experience isn’t there to share.

While the Competent Communicator and Competent Leadership manuals that each new members receives are great for helping you develop the core basics around a variety of different types of public speaking assignments (communication)  and Toastmasters club supporting roles (leadership), it is still only the basics of public speaking that the Competent Communication manual covers.

There are further manuals to further develop public speaking skills in specific types of speech, but members have to first complete the Competent Communicator’s 10 speech assignments before they have access to these. So if your goal is for example to become proficient at developing persuasive speeches, you’ve got to complete the basic 10 speeches before you have access to these. This is a weakness as you may be able to find a public speaking course specifically designed to train you in specific public speaking styles.

Another disadvantage is that Toastmasters doesn’t address the psychological, vocal and body language aspects very well. This part heavily relies on obtaining quality speech evaluation from fellow Toastmasters. And again, it depends on the experience of the members as to the quality of the feedback the member is likely to receive.

A big advantage is that it offers a friendly environment and regular meetings. In Toastmasters, you have a place where you can learn, practice and develop your public speaking skills in a safe and positive environment as often as you need. And in getting better at public speaking and performing club roles such as evaluator, you then become a leader carrying the torch for those members who are just like you once were.

Just one final note: Toastmasters aren’t the only public speaking organisation with ongoing club membership, but they are the largest and most well known worldwide, particularly across the Anglosphere.

Attendance Based: Public Speaking Courses for Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking

For some people they have a big psychological fear of public speaking (glossophobia) or they may suffer from stuttering/stammering. These types of courses are usually short and often cost hundreds of dollars or pounds which may be prohibitive or unjustifiable for some people.

However, these courses can be helpful at reducing those conditions significantly, but they don’t make you good public speakers. The goal is to reduce the fear and/or increase confidence.  However, the extent of the fear of public speaking varies from individual to individual and what they’re willing to try. For example, overcoming fear of public speaking may be achieved for some people via attending a few Toastmasters sessions as a guest, before joining and taking on a speaking role for example, whereas for other people they may be completely paralysed and attending a overcoming fear of public speaking tailored course may be the only acceptable way forward for them.

Attendance Based: Public Speaking Seminars, Public Speaking Courses or Public Speaking Workshops focused on developing public speaking skills

These can be great at teaching you the basics right through to some of the advanced techniques. However, intermediate speakers and advanced speakers looking to improve their skills are most likely to benefit most from this type of event – especially if it’s in a seminar form where you are expected to take notes and maybe invited to ask the odd question. Intermediate and advanced speakers already know the basics, and have hopefully built on that foundation already so they can benefit most from these types of events.

Beginners are probably best to buy a home study public speaking course and attend some Toastmasters courses so that they gain some knowledge and experience of public speaking before paying out to attending courses.  However, if a beginner doesn’t have the time or the will to take a self study public speaking course, then a public speaking workshop or seminar  is a good option.

I should also mention that sometimes you can attend a college based public speaking course which should be significantly cheaper than attending a commercial course. However, from my experience of these types of courses, they are heavily theory based at the expense of actually getting to do some public speaking.

Self Study Based: Public Speaking Courses, Public Speaking Books, Public Speaking DVDs, Public Speaking CDs

These should be used regardless of Toastmasters, or attendance based public speaking seminars, courses and workshops. Books teach you what you need to know in detail. CDs teach you audibly and are sometimes an audio alternative version of a book, which is good for people that prefer to learn aurally. DVDs teach you audibly and visually. Self study public speaking courses combine the best of DVDs/CDs and books with a training focus. The great thing about all of these materials is that they’re yours to keep and you can refer to them time and time again.

Conclusion: The best way to learn to overcome your fear of public speaking and develop public speaking skills

For the beginner public speaker, I strongly believe in self-study courses, books, CDs, and DVDs to build and enhance your public speaking knowledge, alongside Toastmasters to help you develop the basics (and more advanced skills if you decide to stay on for the advanced manuals) and to practice, refine, and develop your public speaking skills. The self-study and Toastmasters complement and work very well with each other.

If an attendance based overcoming fear of public speaking course is felt necessary, then get that, but do consider first attending a Toastmasters session, or if available, a short inexpensive adult education public speaking course at a college to be sure that you really do need an overcoming fear of public speaking course. For some people just getting some mild exposure in a safe environment is enough.

Commercial seminars, courses, and workshops I feel are best avoided until the basics have been learnt. They easily lighten the walllet and are over very quickly. Not the best approach for the beginner public speaker, unless they are short on time and need to learn public speaking skills very quickly. Of course, if the course is free or has a nominal fee then the beginner public speaker should feel free to attend.

A selection of good self study materials and a good money back guaranteed public speaking course are linked below:

Public Speaking Course – Step Up and Speak

Books – USA | UK

CDs – USA | UK

DVDs – USA | UK

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