6 Top Public Speaking Online Courses (2019) - by Vittorio Bollo

Public Speaker and writer Vittorio Bollo provides you with insight into the ‘bogeyman’ known as public speaking along with suggestions on the best public speaking courses.

Yes, you’re finally going to do it! You’re all set to improve your public speaking skills. But it can be a daunting task and it’s something easier said than done. Having to speak in front of a group of people is something most people would rather not do.

Relax. This article should provide you with some interesting insight into the ‘bogeyman’ known as public speaking and also offer some suggestions on possible online public speaking courses you can consider, as well as other resources worth looking into.

Online Public Speaking Courses - Selection Criteria

So, let’s get right to it and help you with just a few of the better online courses and resources that are available for public speaking.

To make the selection process as fair and objective as possible, the assessment of these online training courses (albeit on an ad-hoc basis, please note) was based on the following principal criteria:

  • Affordability: Is the course or resource free? If not, is it well- or fairly-priced?
  • Comprehensiveness: does it include all or most of the important and critical aspects about public speaking, including:
    1. Breathing exercises - general or for anxiety/stress
    2. Breathing during the speech/presentation
    3. Knowing and assessing your audience
    4. Preparation techniques, especially for presentations and speeches
    5. Overcoming anxiety/jitters - before and during the speech
    6. Voice factors, including volume and modulation
  • Time: Is the course time-easy, i.e. not time-sapping or too long or protracted in terms of length?
  • Logical: Does the course follow a logical learning pattern? It should be the opposite of a ‘hodge-podge of disconnected topics and exercises
  • Empathy: does the course take into consideration that you are a beginner and that public speaking may be a very daunting prospect for you?
  • Feedback: this looks to be generally good to excellent from past users of a course. However, it should be noted that this factor should be viewed with caution as users’ feedback is the least objective of all factors. Too often online reviews are not verifiable and are, unfortunately, increasingly ‘paid for’ and, thus, compromised.

Online Training Courses in Public Speaking - A Selected Few

Whilst there are not as many online training courses in public speaking as there are for, say, web design or how to improve your writing skills, there are still a fair number.

I have analyzed as many of them as possible to provide you with an overview of what we deem might be some of the better online training courses in public speaking currently available (i.e. as of August 2019).

Please note that for obvious reasons this list cannot be considered either exhaustive or beyond reproach. Ultimately, and as with any online course, due diligence and further investigation into said course must be undertaken by any prospective student.

Have a good idea of what you want, trust your instinct and always proceed with caution.

The Selected Courses Worth Considering

A few of the online courses that could be worth pursuing include:

This is an especially valuable course for those wanting to make good presentations, akin to those made for TED Talks. It’s quite well rated and has had over 1,000 students complete it online.

The course includes a 1-hour on-demand video, 1 article, 5 downloadable resources, full lifetime access, assignments, and a certificate of completion.

It was also dramatically priced down at the time of this article.

Another Udemy course that has a good range of topics, including an interesting emphasis on ‘soft skills’ such as body language and the art of ‘captivating’ an audience by means of emphasis and other techniques.

It has mostly excellent reviews (on a well-established site which offers a slew of different courses) and is also being offered at a well-reduced rate. It includes a 1.5 hour on-demand video, full lifetime access, and a certificate of completion.

Ginger Public Speaking has a diverse suite of different, niche-focused public speaking courses on offer, ranging from The Foundations of Excellent Public Speaking, which are run on a monthly basis in London, to Finding Your Voice and its Presentation Laboratory.

This course comes from a reputable London-based public speaking consultancy with years of experience and presence in the market. Their courses range from 1-day to 8-months in length, and are priced accordingly.

They do appear to have free offerings and resources which could nicely supplement your learning elsewhere.

Fundamentals of Public Speaking - University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota (UND) offers its Fundamentals of Public Speaking online course. This is not the cheapest option, and it can take up to nine months, which may be too much of a commitment for many people wanting to do online learning.

It's a comprehensive, committed program that covers many key aspects of the skill. Thus, it could be an excellent choice for the beginner wanting to be a truly competent speaker or even the mid-range speaker who is serious about further honing and perfecting their public speaking skills.

It is worth mentioning that being a part of UND's ‘enroll anytime courses’ means that this course is priced at a fairly affordable, in-state tuition rate.

Mastering Public Speaking - University of Waterloo

Another viable online course offered by an established college is that by Canada’s University of Waterloo. Its Mastering Public Speaking course falls under its Professional Development faculty and can be done online when you have time over a six-week period.

It ticks all the needed boxes in terms of learning outcomes and includes modules such as ‘Taking the Fear out of Fear,’ ‘Harnessing the Power of Nonverbal Communication,’ and ‘Mastering the Long Speech’.

A certificate of completion is available for printing immediately upon successful completion of the course, which has a handily open-book online exam. The course can also be considered inexpensive.

The most unusual, cutting-edge course we came across was that offered by Virtualspeech.

Its Essential Public Speaking course allows you to perfect your public speaking and communication skills with a combination of online tutorials and virtual reality (VR).

“This course provides you with the fundamental tools of communication to help you manage your nerves and feel more confident in front of an audience. The immersive training allows you to practice your skills in a safe, virtual environment, as often as you need to”.

The course includes VR features and rooms, voice and eye contact analysis, role-play exercises in VR, and a VR headset, if you require one.

The 10-step course curriculum looks deceptively simple but actually seems to cover most of the important aspects of public speaking training. Interestingly, the course is quite inexpensive at $150 compared to other paid online courses, although it’s assumed that wouldn’t include the cost of hiring the needed VR headset.

Other Selected Resources

  • Speaker Testimonials: Sometimes listening to well-known speakers and their personal tips on how they approach public speaking can be very valuable too as part of the learning process. One example is Simon Sinek, a well-known motivational speaker who might not be the most brilliant public speaker per se, but is nevertheless compelling and engaging as a speaker, as he explains. Another example is that of Julian Treasure in his TED Talk.
  • Books: Even the best of courses may require you to read further on the topic of public speaking, especially if you are serious about attaining a good level of competency in the skill or further honing your skills to the next level. Some good reads include:
    • The Art of Public Speaking by Stephen E. Lucas is a good start as its a classic in the art of public speaking. Already in its 13th edition, the book is considered the most widely-used reference in colleges on this subject.
    • Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln: 21 Powerful Secrets of History's Greatest Speakers by James C. Humes is also an excellent read, especially given that the author was an historian who happened to write speeches for five presidents. Learn how Napoleon Bonaparte perfected the art of the ‘pregnant pause’ or how Ronald Reagan used wit to win over even the most hostile audiences.
    • Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun is as candid and revealing an insight into a professional public speaker’s good and bad moments as you’ll ever get. Particularly revealing (and comforting for the newbie or struggling public speaker) are his bad moments, some of which are quite funny
    • The First 20 Hours: How To Learn Anything Fast is a zippy, entertaining book by Josh Kaufman in which he outlines how you can achieve a minimum viable skill level that you want to achieve by doing research to break the skill into sub-skills and then doing periods of focused practice. And all of it in just 20 hours. Pareto Principle, anyone?
  • Practice Possibilities: As with any skill, practice makes perfect. One of the key factors you should take into account when choosing a public speaking course is whether and to what extent the course incorporates practice techniques and scenarios into the learning. You can supplement your learning with online practice options and even apps.
    • There are some interesting suggestions by Inc. in its article titled Public Speaking Apps to Perfect Your Next Presentation. One such app is Ummo, which analyzes your speech and highlights those pesky ‘filler’ words we’re all guilty of drifting into our speech, like ‘um,’ ‘er,’ ‘y'know,’ ‘like’ and the like! Another useful app could be Pro Metronome, which helps you as a speaker to practice your pacing, which is also very important in ensuring you don’t rush your speech due to all those nerves!
    • Educator Paul Ellsworth offers seven ways that you can practice and hone your public speaking online. He offers a ‘speech grid’ in which you can objectively assess speeches made by presenters on TED Talk. Other suggestions include using Facebook Live or even Youtube to practice what feels like ‘presenting’ in front of a large audience.

By the Way, It’s Good to Know...

Your fear of public speaking is real and very understandable. It is the number one fear among people, even beating out the the fear of death, heights or a major illness and is said to afflict up to 75% of the population. This was the finding of the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, as reported in the Washington Post, and as reiterated by Forbes magazine.

The BBC wrote on how a fear of public speaking may be holding many people back in their careers, whilst the Financial Times made it very clear: public speaking is a core skill in the 21st century workplace. There’s even a word for it: glossophobia, derived from the Greek words ‘glosso’ and ‘phobos’ for ‘tongue’ and ‘fear’.

We’re Wired That Way

There is a simple anthropological reason for this fear. Fundamentally, we are a social animal and the fear of being ostracized is hard-wired into us. We as humans have evolved to be dependent on social bonds for our survival. Deep inside we still unconsciously believe that any social engagement with a large audience carries a huge risk of rejection - and even death.

Speaking in front of a group of people (and possibly failing) goes straight to that primal fear.

The Good News…

Becoming more confident and adept at public speaking doesn’t mean having to be a pro at it or know everything about public speaking. After all, you don’t have to swim like Michael Phelps in order to be a competent, confident swimmer. It’s the same with public speaking

It’s worth remembering here what is known as the ‘Pareto Principle,’ also known as the ‘80/20 Rule,’ whereby one only needs to master 20% of a given task or skill in order to attain 80% mastery thereof. The Pareto Principle states that this can be true of any task or skill, including time management.

And this should also be true of public speaking. That is why the emphasis in the first of this article hereafter is on two aspects of public speaking, namely learning how to breathe and knowing your audience. Get those two things right, and, believe it or not, you’re well on your way to being a more confident, able public speaker. Think of that as your ‘80/20’ principle in public speaking.

So, mastering your ability to speak confidently in public is not as ‘huge a mountain to climb’ as it may appear at first!

Learn How To Breathe

We all know we need to breathe in order to speak. However, most people don’t realize the full extent of how important breathing is when speaking in public. Breathing properly is central to being a more confident, able public speaker, as detailed by the Harvard Business Review. That is why it is featured in this article - such is its crucial importance.

There is importance in breathing properly before one even commences a public speech, i.e. as part of one’s prep. Then there’s knowing how to breathe properly whilst speaking. Breathing properly and consistently is invaluable in calming those public speaking jitters.

Useful Exercises For You

There are some very useful examples of breathing exercises or techniques available online. You can do these as stand-alone exercises or as a useful adjunct to any online training you might decide to do. Some of these exercises include:

  • WebMD emphasizes stress relief breathing that should be done once or twice a day and was selected due to the simplicity and flexibility of the suggested exercises.
  • In a similar vein is the University of Michigan’s excellent belly breathing and roll breathing exercises, which are also very helpful for stress management, both for public speaking purposes and generally.
  • Dr Andrew Weil details three breathing techniques, namely the Stimulating Breath (or Bellows Breath), the 4-7-8 breathing technique (or Relaxing Breath), as can be seen in this Youtube video, and the Zen-inspired Breath Counting technique. Dr Weil is clearly an expert on breathing techniques and he offers diverse, easily accomplished exercises.
  • The importance of breathing from your diaphragm, which any actor will tell you is critically important for speech and which most people never do, is also worth doing. Seeing it visually should help in your understanding of how breathing from the diaphragm is very different to breathing ‘from your throat,’ so to speak.
  • Jimmy Cannon is an accomplished and engaging voice coach, which is why his video detailing how to breathe properly for public speaking was considered worthy of inclusion here

Knowing Your Audience

It’s simple fact: People often bomb in their public speaking because they simply don’t know or understand who their audience is. This is in turn related to knowing what your audience wants or expects from your speech/presentation. You will see that this factor comes up repeatedly in online public speaking and presentation courses.

It’s imperative that you know your audience as part of your audience analysis. Otherwise, how is your message going to have the desired/needed impact?

‘Audience’ can mean everything from an auditorium filled with hundreds of conference attendees to a board room with fifteen colleagues and executive managers to an interview before a panel of three interviewers.

What exactly is your audience’s expectations? Are they expecting a specialist paper on a specific topic for which you are an expert? Is it a business presentation? Is it an interview in which you are expected to speak about yourself, your goals and your career accomplishments? What an audience expects is what defines that audience.

Tips on Knowing Your Audience

These are just some of the many useful tips one can get online on how to best know and gauge your audience:

n In this video, Toastmaster’s International provides insight into knowing your audience.

  • It’s worth noting that Toastmaster’s International is an excellent resource on all things public speaking as it is one of the world’s most well-known and well-respected public speaking organizations. The organization has a series of videos on Youtube that are worth perusing as part of your ongoing online education on public speaking.
  • Here is another video perspective on knowing one’s audience, this time by Toastmaster Art.
  • The Harvard Business Review recommends that in order to give a great presentation, you need to distill your message to just 15 words. This is best accomplished by knowing your audience, as well as knowing what your ‘pitch’ or focus topic is and knowing the objective of your presentation.

Conclusions

There’s no denying that public speaking can be a daunting, even terrifying, task for many. I hope that this article has given your nerves and anxiety some respite and made you realize that this thing called public speaking can be done - and that there is a wealth of resources online to help you.

Remember these final tips when deciding what public speaking course or resources to pursue:

  • Know what you’re looking for and why you’re wanting to be a better public speaker
  • Know what you’re able to commit to, be it in terms of complexity or time or money
  • Remember the Pareto Principle - you don’t need to know or master it all
  • Like everything online, trust your instinct
  • Remember, this could be one of the best investments you ever make for yourself - so do it well and do it with confidence

Good luck!

Authored by:

Edited by:

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Brendan Martin Chief Editor at Course Panel