How do writing and
public speaking skills compare? I asked my friend Brian Kent
Johnson that question a few years ago.
According to Brian,
the two skill sets overlap, but there are some important
differences. Brian is an oral communication consultant who does a
lot of work for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, an
organization that provides professional training and development
There are obvious
similarities, he pointed out, such as the need for logical
development and coherent organization. But on a deeper level,
creating a text and delivering an oral presentation are
fundamentally different activities.
"Speaking is a
physical act. It requires you to cope with a combination of
exhilaration and anxiety," he explained. "When you are standing
before a group, your greatest fear is forgetting what you’re
trying to say.
"Failing to recognize
the fundamental differences between writing and speaking can lead
to a misdirection of your attention. If you’re standing there
focusing entirely on your written text, thinking your delivery
won’t be right unless you follow the dictates of what you’ve
written down on paper, then you’re probably not concentrating on
more immediate and pressing concerns, such as how to control your
voice, where to look, and what to do with your hands."
Well, that made sense
to me. I’ve read about studies conducted by communication experts
Albert Mehrabian and Justin Joseph indicating audiences are more
impressed by visual elements (your appearance, expressions,
gestures, and movement) and by vocal elements (your intonation,
resonance, and projection) than by the actual content of your
"So, how do you coach
people to attend to those more pressing matters?" I asked.
"I focus on the
physical act of speaking while thinking on your feet. The first
thing I work on is breathing, because if you can control your
breath, you will control your emotions, your voice, and your
"And how do you help
people think on their feet?"
"I teach them a
technique I call ‘looping.’ If you get lost or lose your train of
thought, or if someone asks you a question you’re not sure how to
answer, loop back to the familiar. Repeat your last idea or
paraphrase the question. Hearing a repetition of the familiar will
help you continue your train of thought or think of a response."
how I teach people to create transitions at the top of their
paragraphs. How about organization?" I asked.
presentation involves more than the old saw, ‘Tell them what
you’re going to say. Say it. Tell them what you’ve said.’ I teach
people to ‘Lay it out. Fill it in. Tie it up.’"
"That’s how I teach
people to write paragraphs," I said. "Introduce. Develop. Resolve.
So organization is the same in speaking and writing?"
"Not exactly," said
Brian. "In speaking you have to remind your audience more often of
where you’ve been and where you’re going, so I would add a fourth
point to your paragraph model: ‘Introduce. Develop. Resolve.