Courses can teach you how to talk the talk in public

I was absorbed by the article The Voice of Experience, about whether designers have the skills to be absorbing public speakers (DW 19 August). Nick Smurthwaite seems to believe that to be a successful public speaker you have to be famous, have a large ego and be opinionated.

It’s important to have something to say, but equally important are the skills to get your message across in a dramatic, thought-provoking or entertaining way.

The talent or even opinions of a ‘famous’ designer count for little if they can’t ‘perform’ in front of an audience. I have seen many luminaries of the design world fall flat and bore their audience to death because, although they may have had something interesting to say, they didn’t know how to say it.

In the past, my own experience of speaking in front of an audience or even doing a presentation in front of more than a handful of people brought on cold sweats and an absolute fear of the outcome. Most people I know would rather be dragged in front of a firing squad than speak in public. And most designers I work with suffer from the belief that their work should speak for itself. This is not always the case, or why would the Design Museum talks and Design & Art Direction lectures prove to be so popular?

A year ago I was ‘dragged’ along to a meeting of Toastmasters above a pub in London’s Victoria. Toastmasters International is a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping people speak in public. I was amazed at the variety of people I met there, from radio presenters who could talk eloquently in front of a microphone, but not an audience, to very shy people who could barely rise from their seat to introduce themselves. Over the past year I’ve discovered – in the most incredibly supportive environment – that public speaking can be fun and it’s incredible how much you can improve in a short time. I have also ‘dragged’ along a couple of designers from the Open Agency and now they are regulars.

Some people are ‘naturals’ in front of an audience, but the majority of us aren’t. If you’re one of the latter check out a Toastmasters near you.

Gary Cooke

Creative director

The Open Agency

London SE1

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