How do writing and public speaking skills
compare? I asked my friend Brian Kent Johnson that question a few years
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 for attorneys.
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
"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 brain."
"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
"Interesting. That’s how I teach people to create
transitions at the top of their paragraphs. How about organization?" I
"Organizing your 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. Recap.’"