Public Speaking is Not Acting

Although public speaking shares some characteristics with acting, the two are not the same. Let’s start with the similarities between public speaking and acting: a stage (and stage fright), maybe a microphone or voice projection, eye contact, potentially props, and definitely an audience (however, the audience is there for different reasons). Your days in drama club don’t go to waste if you’re practicing to become a good speaker, but you can’t rest on your laurels if your background exclusively involves the theater because public speaking is not acting.

7 Reasons Why Public Speaking is Not Acting

  • No Director & No Stage Cues – One of the biggest differences is that most speakers are self-directed and do not have someone telling them what to do and where to stand. Even if you’re using a presentation coach like myself, my role is to guide you through preparing for your presentation, not do your presentation for you or tell you exactly what to do.
  • Visual Aids – Even though you don’t need a visual aid like PowerPoint to do a presentation, most presenters use them. However, I’ve never seen an actor use a visual aid (unless they’re portraying a public speaker.)
  • No Script – When acting, you’re following a script and usually reciting it 100% accurately, especially if it is Shakespeare. For public speaking, I suggest never scripting out your presentation word-for-word because it adds unnecessary pressure to you and your language will improve the more you practice. When acting, you practice to improve your accuracy of the script. Even actors that ad lib regularly, like comedians, follow a general script.
  • Your Message – Since you’re not following a script when you’re presenting, you need to create your message. This message starts with brainstorming what you want to share and whittling it down until you get your outline in place.
  • Your Voice – Your audience wants to hear your message and your opinion on the topic. They don’t want to see a rehearsed script that someone else wrote.
  • Your Personality – Along with your voice, your audience wants to see your personality because they want to get to know you. When acting, you portray another person and the true you must by hidden. Because you share your personality and your voice, presentations begin many business relationships because prospective clients get to know you and like you. I’ve always said that clients hire who they like (and they like who they understand, hence my company name “speak simple”.)
  • Call to Action – Most business presentations have some type of call to action, or next step the speaker wants the audience to take. A call to action may be to put their business card in a bowl to register for the presenter’s email list, attend a future presentation, or to hire the presenter.

Now you understand why people saying presentations are just like acting gets under my skin and why I don’t understand why so many presentation coaches use their theater experience to train public speakers. The two skills are very different and giving presenters acting lessons can lead them down the wrong path and encourage them to script out their speech and to pretend to be someone they’re not.

Ideally, both actors and presenters do either for the love of the message and to enrich the audience.

Additional Resources

How Speak Simple Can Help You

Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.