Can Theater Training Help Public Speakers?

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Can Theater Training Help Public Speakers

Many of the public speakers we’ve worked with over the years have done some work in the theater, from amateur dramatics to full-blown professional productions. And many of those have gone through theater training to help them become better performers.

Because of that, we often get asked whether theater training can help people to become better public speakers. As you can imagine, that’s a tricky question to answer because it can vary from individual to individual, and different courses teach different things.

Still, there’s a lot to be said both for and against theater training, and we’re going to take a closer look at both arguments today. Here’s what you need to know about theater training.

Theater Training

 Yes it Can

1.  It teaches you to project your voice

Easily the single best thing about theater training for public speakers is that it can teach them how to project their voices. Actors have to do this all the time in crowded theaters, and public speakers often need to do the same on the conference circuit. True, a lot of events will provide you with a microphone, and amplification can reduce the need to project, but it’s still an important skill to have. Any form of voice control is a good idea for public speakers.

2.  You learn to become a showman

Showmanship is a useful quality for public speakers because it can help them stand out from the crowd and deliver a memorable presentation that people take away with them. If you spend any time watching the world’s most iconic public speakers, you’ll notice that they all have a flair for showmanship. Steve Jobs was particularly good at it, and Apple’s events are something of a masterclass at how to deliver a show.

3. You can act confident even when you’re not

Acting is difficult, and if you’ve never had any training then you’re unlikely to be particularly good unless you happen to have a natural flair for it. The good news is that if you spend some time taking lessons, you can improve your acting skills, and that can come in useful in all sorts of situations. There’s a lot of truth to the idea that you can fake it until you make it, and acting can help with that. You can also learn to feign interest when you’re speaking to people, even when they’re boring you to death.

4. It will get you used to being in front of an audience

If your theater training culminates in you delivering a live performance, it will help you get used to performing onstage in front of an audience. Even though public speaking is very different to acting onstage, the two skills are transferable, and so by practicing one, you can get better at the other. There’s a reason why singers, actors and other performers look so natural when they’re delivering acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies. They’re used to speaking in front of an audience.

5. You’ll get better at memorizing a script

Actors and performers have to memorize things in advance and then recall them under pressure in front of an audience. The same is true for public speakers. True, you’re not going to want to deliver each of your presentations by reading from a script, but it can be a useful skill to have, and there will often be a need for you to fall back on scripts for specific parts of your presentations. For example, if you work in a regulated industry like finance or healthcare, you may need to use a script when you need to be careful what you’re saying.

No it Can’t

1. The skills aren’t necessarily transferable

While it’s true that some of the skills that you can learn from theater training are easily transferable, others aren’t. For example, it’s great to be able to project your voice if you’re a public speaker, but you’re not going to need to know how to sing or to take cues from the side of the stage. If your goal is to get better at public speaking, it’s a much better use of your time to study public speaking than it is to study theater.

2. Entertaining is different to sharing information

Theater training generally focuses on entertainment, and so everything that you learn will be geared towards making people have fun and enjoy themselves. That can make a presentation more memorable, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of forgetting that you’re a public speaker and pretending to be a comedian. Your presentations will almost always be about providing people with useful information instead of just entertaining them, and most theater training doesn’t cover that.

3. Public speaking is usually more formal

Building on the last point, public speaking engagements often take place at conferences or in corporate meeting rooms, rather than in public theaters. These more formal environments require a different approach if you’re to come across as both knowledgeable and professional, and you won’t have the added factor that actors can rely on, which is that most people at the theater have loosened up with a couple of glasses of wine beforehand.

4. Theater training teaches skills that aren’t relevant

This point relates back to the first point we covered in our against list, which is that theater classes teach you a little bit of everything. There’s the idea in theater circles of a triple threat – someone who can sing, dance and act. As you can imagine, there’s not much call for public speakers to be able to dance while they’re delivering their presentations, and so only a relatively small percentage of what you learn will actually be relevant to your speaking engagements.

5.  It can act as a distraction to learning public speaking

If you want to learn to be a good public speaker, you need to study public speaking. There will always be elements that overlap with other disciplines, but that doesn’t mean that you should over-focus on those other disciplines instead of trying to get better at speaking. You can think of studying theater as a public speaker as being like learning the rules for cyclists when you’re learning to drive. It helps to know them and there’s some overlap between the two, but if you focus too hard on the rules for cyclists, you’ll never pass your driving test.

Conclusion

As you can probably tell from our two lists here, there are arguments both for and against theater training being helpful for public speakers. Ultimately, it probably depends upon the kind of speaker you are, and the way that you approach your work.

The good news is that the training is unlikely to actively hinder you, and there can be quite a lot of crossover between the two fields. At the very least, you’re going to want to learn to project your voice, and that’s something that theater training can often help with. The rest is up to you.

Now that you know our thoughts, we want to hear from you. Have you ever gone through theater training? If so, did you find it useful for your career as a public speaker?

Be sure to let us know in the comments so that we can keep the discussion going. You can also follow us on your social networking sites of choice so that you never miss another article. We’ll see you soon!

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