What is the difference between public speaking and presenting?

Is there actually any difference between public speaking and presenting?  

In reality there often is, with presenting seen as simply the sharing of information whereas public speaking is expected to entertain, influence and inspire its audience.

But, don’t you think the world would be a better place if every business presentation also entertained, influenced and inspired everyone in the room?

Most business presentations are little more than an audio track for a PowerPoint presentation – with the slides doing the bulk of the work to document and transfer the information to the audience. And to most people, that is the definition of a presentation.  If you think that way, then ‘presenting’ is simply ‘public speaking’ done badly…

At the Malmesbury Speakers Academy we don’t teach that there is any difference between public speaking and presenting – both are words that describe the act of communicating with an audience in order to inspire them to take action.  And both start with trying to understand the audience who will be in the room and then working out the best way to communicate with them.  

Every time you stand up and speak you are selling something – a product, or service – an idea or yourself. Whichever it is, your job is to inform and inspire your audience, so they decide to buy what you are selling. Now, what you are selling may be an idea or concept – and so the aim of your talk is to influence the audience to ‘buy into’ or believe in that idea and change their behaviour as a result. In other words, the buy-in may be emotional rather than financial.  

You may need to think a little into the question – what am I ‘selling’ to my audience.  For example, you might be presenting a status report at work to your boss and they are not looking for any commentary, just the facts. So, what are you selling in that situation?

One possible answer could be: I want my boss to buy into the idea that the figures I share are trustworthy and accurate.  Or I want my boss to buy into the idea that I am managing this project well.

There are many different approaches to public speaking and presenting – a lecture, a lesson, a seminar, a motivational message, a briefing and so on.  The job of the speaker is to pick the right combination of approaches that both servers the needs and wants of the audience and also puts the audience in the best position to make an informed decision about whether to buy (or buy-into) the thing or idea that you are selling.

Don’t be tempted to fall into the trap that there is a difference between public speaking and presenting – because at the root of that distinction is the idea that presentations do not have to be ‘as good’ as public speaking. And if you buy into that idea, you are doing you audience and yourself a massive disservice.