December 4, 2007

Public speaking: talent or skill?

Is public speaking a talent or a skill?

Talent: a special natural ability or aptitude

Skill: the ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well

If you think of public speaking as a talent, and it's one you don't have, you will fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others who have (what you perceive to be) "natural talent." You will see yourself as deficient in some way. You will convince yourself that you can never be as good as "so and so."

If you think of public speaking as a talent, and one you do have, you might think you don't need to work at it, because you're a "natural."

If you see it as a skill and recognize that everyone has to put in the time and effort to improve, you will get better.

Yes, there are people who have some natural talent. But every great speaker has had to work at it, and continues to work on those skills every day. Talent may give someone a foundation, but training is what makes a complete speaker.

Just look at the raw talent that passes through the audition rooms on American Idol every year.

There are some singers who have amazing voices, but no vocal control. Or they have great voices and control, but lack connection with the audience. Or they have great voices, but their movements are awkward (oh yeah, Taylor Hicks actually won). It takes more than just a great voice to be a great singer.

Whether or not you have "talent," develop your skill by practicing - and by taking every opportunity to speak.

Do you have talent or skill? Or both?

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16 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think neither. :)

But as you know, I'm working on it.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

I think a lot of people believe they don't have talent, when in reality they've just never explored it. But building skills is usually the way around that. :-)

Anonymous said...

Some skill. Not as much as I'd like, but I periodically get chances to work on it. Sometimes I get in the zone--which is beautiful--but I haven't figured out how to replicate it. Apparently my senior presentation was a thing of beauty but I blanked on it afterwards because I was so relieved!

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Ahhh, the zone. It's what we strive for, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Heh, I agreed that it's a bit of both. What I found most important was being comfortable in your own that a talent or a skill, or something else altogether? ;)

thanks for the post, and the blog in general. I just found it, and I really enjoy it.

Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Lisa.

I think this should be required reading for everyone who ever makes a comment like "Oh, I could never give a presentation like that." or "Speaking is so easy for you. You're lucky."

Personally, I believe that my public speaking results from:
--> 5% talent - Not natural speaking talent, but talent to know that speaking skills are important!
--> 95% effort and practice to improve skills needed to effectively communicate.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Andrew. It's easy to psych ourselves out, isn't it?

Unknown said...

Great post,Lisa.

While inherent talent is certainly an advantage, ultimately, it is your passion and willingness to prepare is much more important.

During my initial attempts in public speaking, my psychiatrist friend said I would never make it as a public speaker as i suffered from anxiety neurosis.

I was worried but went ahead- joined the Jaycees and Toastmasters
and today make a decent living out of my public speaking skills. It's taken me all over the world and I am happy I did not get anxious over my anxiety neurosis !

My mantra for speakers ? "The will to win is important. The will to prepare is vital" - Joe Paterno

I feel it is also important to find a good mentor !

Lisa Braithwaite said...

You're right, CK -- preparation is a huge part of getting over our anxieties. I wrote a couple of posts on shyness vs. social phobia that you might like:

Public speaking: fear vs. phobia

Shyness, social phobia, or none of the above?

More on shyness and social phobia

Anonymous said...

Public speaking is a talent before it becomes a skill. A talent is a latent ability, something that is dormant inside you. When you work at it, it becomes a skill.

If you do have a potential talent for speaking and you work at it, you are likely to receive encouragement and recognition for your talent, which then makes you want to continue, which in turn helps you get better.

However, if you don't have a talent for speaking, but nevertheless work at it and fail to receive encouragement and recognition, you are likely to curtail your pursuit of the skill, and will therefore not succeed.

The great thing is to persist in the face of discouragement.

Churchill passed out when giving his first speech in the Commons.

FDR bombed over and over again when he was a young Secretary of the Navy. His wife Eleanor thought he was hopeless.

Woodrow Wilson had terrible nerves and worked like a fiend to overcome his fear.

And our own Bill Clinton was booed for his interminable speech at the 1988 Democratic convention.

Yet he, and all the others, went on to become highly respected communicators.

I feel like quoting someone famous on the subject of persisting.

Emerson: "Move confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined."

Or the great Japanese folk saying: "Fall down seven times, get up eight."

It's the only way to sculpt talent into skill.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thank you for your comments and quotes, Sims!

NewWorldOrder said...

Some people do have talent. The problem is that for some the talent is immediately apparent. For others, the talent must be cultivated before it blossoms.

I like the definition that Strengths Finder 2.0 gives, where what we're really interested is a person's strength. And strength is defined as:

Strength = Talent X Effort.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Nice definition, NWO.

Brian Clough said...

There are many authors including Malcolm Gladwell 'Outliers' and the guy who wrote 'Bounce', who suggest talent is a myth.

All people with a high level of ability at anything, have practiced for hundreds, even thousands of hours.

I tend to agree.

I think the reasons people believe in talent, may be that as we move out of childhood, all people see is the end result.

It starts to look like 'talent'. But it isn't.

If you're a good, confident public speaker who can deliver a logical argument with credibility, and you use emotional appeals to strengthen that argument ... I got news for you.

You couldn't do that when you were 5. Or 10. Probably not even 20.

Talent's a myth. Don't waste your time worrying about it.

Practice enough.

Love the practice.

You'll be one of the most 'talented' speakers you've ever meet, in no time.

Keith Davis said...

Hi Lisa
Bit of talent, lot of skill.

I try and get that across to new speakers.
We all had to start knowing nothing and slowly build our skills.

A bit like the 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Keith! It's so true, isn't it, that we all start with nothing?

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