“In theory, theory is the same as practice. In practice, it isn’t the same.“
-Yogi Berra, New York Yankees manager and catcher
I have read a lot of books on speeches and presentation, and other related areas, such as leadership, hypnosis, magic, acting technique and NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming). I keep tabs on dozens of blogs, watch famous speeches and TED talks on YouTube and go to a lot of presentations, and I learn a lot in the process.
I get ideas of how to structure speeches and presentations and on techniques for presenting different kinds of data. I observe the effects of different speaking styles. I see different kinds of openings and closings, some successful, and some not. I pay attention to what kinds of questions, jokes and antics serve to drive the message forward and which are pointless digressions.
And yet I generally learn more in ten minutes on stage than I do in a month of reading and research. Speaking is a skill and we don’t learn skills by reading about them or watching others perform them. We learn them by doing them.
Sure, just as a golfer can pick up useful tips from a golf magazine or instructional video and try them the next time he or she plays, we can get speaking ideas or learn presentation techniques. But knowing them isn’t the same as using them.
If you want to be a better golfer, you need to get out there and play. You need to go to the range and practice. You need to hit the ball again and again and again. You need to burn it into your brain and your muscles until it becomes as natural and intuitive as breathing.
If you want to be a better speaker, you need to stand up in front of a crowd and speak.
You need to play with your voice, learning its auditory and emotional range and how to use it to seize and hold the attention of your audience.
You need to feel how you stand, how your body moves and how you can most effectively create the image of calm, competence and authority that your audience craves in a speaker.
You need to train yourself to make and hold eye contact, to nurture that intimate rapport that a great speaker can forge with every single person in the audience. Those are things you can’t learn from a book or from watching other speakers.
In theory, you need to practice. In practice, if you want to get better, you absolutely need to practice.