On my drive to work earlier this week, I heard the familiar voice of a writer colleague on the radio. I soon became uncomfortable listening to my colleague, for reasons that I’ll share shortly. The experience reminded me about the absolutely different skills required of a speaker and a writer.

I’m not going to name the writer because my post isn’t an attack on him; it’s an appeal to every person who may be interviewed or stand before an audience at a conference or other speaking engagement. Practice speaking, and consider getting training and experience in public speaking through associations or organizations such as Toastmasters, International.

A few months ago, after seeing some weaknesses in my speaking style, I joined a Toastmasters club that had just formed at work. Although I’ve only completed a few talks, I already see and hear the improvement in my structured and off-the-cuff talks. Club members actually gloat now when they catch me saying “um” or “err.” It doesn’t happen often!

My work within the Toastmasters program is what made me more aware of the conversation that my colleague had earlier this week with the host of a major Chicago-based radio station. The colleague was being interviewed regarding an article he had written that appears in the most recent issue of a consumer magazine.

As the colleague answered question after question from the radio host, my emotions changed from excitement, to bemusement, to unbelief, and finally to sadness. This colleague is a solid communicator—of the written word. He has strong journalistic senses and churns out a massive amount of well-written online and print articles and opinion pieces.

But he seemed ill-prepared and very unsure of himself during the radio interview. He stumbled over himself and strung out disjointed answers to the host’s relatively straightforward questions about the background for the article and some general questions about the people who are featured prominently in the article.

It sounded like the radio host had awakened my colleague from a deep sleep in the middle of night. But the reality must have been that the interview was prearranged, giving my colleague time to prepare.

I’m more convinced than ever of the very different skills involved in writing and speaking. Of course, both require organization and an understanding of how to communicate with an audience. But a writer cannot just “wing it” in front of an audience (or a radio host) without a different kind of preparation. When he tries, the lack of preparation comes through loudly and clearly.