What’s the Difference Between Presentation Skills and Public Speaking?

A few months ago, I had a meeting with someone who suggested that I rename my workshop called Presentation Skills because he was concerned that people would think that it was a Power Point course.  That was a new perspective for me, because in my mind a presentation is so much more than just Power Point. (For more on this topic, please see my Nuts and Bolts of 13 October.) Yesterday, I got asked another question that made me think about how people perceive terminology; a prospective client wanted to know if I coach public speaking, as well as presentation skills.


I had to think about that one. The problem was not that I don’t coach both, it is that I was trying to figure out what her definition of the two terms is. My guess is that she perceives presentation skills either as Power Point production (which it is not) or small group interactions. Public speaking, on the other hand, is more one-way. It usually involves standing on a stage or at a podium talking to a larger audience.  It is true, these contexts are different and therefore require slightly different applications of skill.


The myriad of TED talks available on the internet are good examples of public speaking, whilst your toolbox talks at work might be more of a presentation in that they have more two-way communication. Aside from the dominant direction of communication (one-way vs two-way), the other two big differences between presenting and public speaking, are the size of the audience and the style of interaction with them.


We all have our preferences regarding the size of the audience. This is in some ways determined by our personality, but the good news is that the core skills remain the same. Your body language, facial expressions and hand gestures are important. How you use your voice to convey information to connect with your audience is still critical. Engaging your audience is another key point.  Planning and augmentation (Power Point or not) are necessary considerations too.


These skills can be used to prepare and present a great keynote speech as well as a riveting presentation. Understanding the subtle differences between the two is where coaching comes in.


The best tip I can give you for now, whether you are giving a keynote speech or a small-group presentation, is to learn to talk to people rather than at them. Your ability to connect with your audience, be they 5 or 500, will be the make-or-break of your talk.



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