With Vs At

present with people Mar 20, 2023
Public Speaking Pathway Part 1




I will never forget sitting in my sixth grade classroom and being in utter shock and disbelief. I had incredibly high expectations. I was coming off of the best school year of my life. I absolutely loved my fifth grade year. I had an incredible teacher and an amazing group of friends. It seemed like everything our teacher, Miss Tschapi, planned, she did with our interests in mind. It was almost like she had a microphone out at recess and was listening to our conversations.

Why do I say that? Because everything we did that year, she tailor made for our needs.

That’s why we were in for a giant shock our sixth grade year. Our new teacher served her country faithfully as a member of the Air Force. Often she would actually wear her uniform because she was still in the reserves and would need to go to a training exercise before or after school.

Instead of tapping into empathy, creativity and story, I felt like she used fear and control. She was not a bad teacher. It really just came down to two fundamental differences in their teaching style.

One spoke with us and one spoke at us. Definitely a big difference.

One brought us along on the journey and included us into the larger story. The other dispensed information as if she needed to check all her boxes off her lesson sheet. I have fond memories of my six grade teacher and she had moments of brevity and empathy, but they were few and far between. Two great individuals, but two extremely different teaching methods.

That’s where I started to learn the giant difference of speaking with someone and speaking at them.

This translates into all levels and areas of communication. Whether you are speaking one-on-one and face-to-face, perhaps over coffee. Whether you are communicating to your team, as a leader or as a member of it.  Whether you are standing on stage or delivering a presentation, and speaking and teaching. Or if you are influencing or communicating online.

Communication is a necessity. We all know that. It is a vital and integral part of our lives. Healthy communication is oxygen for relationships and leadership. The reality is, you choose to communicate in healthy or unhealthy ways. You can choose between speaking with people or speaking at people.




Fast forward to 1996. I was invited to teach a group of high school students every Wednesday night. This was a great opportunity for me and one that I was so excited about. But, I was forced to make a decision. How would I communicate as I stand in front of those students to teach them?

I had so many aspirations for being literally the greatest speaker they have ever heard. I valued clarity, told stories, and helped them laugh. Yet, at the same time, I wanted to be a deep teacher who would wow my audience with the insight and wisdom that I taught. I was also trying to be a strong and forceful leader. And as weeks went by, I realized that they weren’t listening.

Scrambling to get their attention, I tried my hand at communicating with a loud and forceful tone in my voice. I attempted to dispense way more information than my students could handle. On top of that, I did not think of their needs first when preparing. I only thought of the material that I wanted to present and how I wanted them to respond.

I realized I had reverted back to the example from my sixth grade teacher and became the kind of communicator that spoke at their audience instead of speaking with them.

I just couldn’t believe it! I fell into the trap of presenting at people.

It didn’t take very long for my students to rebel against my new found speaking style. Less and less students were showing up. My content was not wrong or bad and it’s not like my heart was in the wrong place, but I fell into the trap of speaking at students, and not with them. I cared more about my needs, the information that I thought was helpful, and my performance on stage.

I made the wrong leadership decision.

Everything changed when I made the switch to presenting with students.




Instead of putting my needs first, I put their needs first. Rather than crafting a message around what I thought their problems were and the solutions they needed, I started to really listen and empathize with their needs. I learned how to tell stories that tapped into their positive emotions and inspired them to lean in when I spoke. I figured out how important clarity is to communication. Instead of dispensing too much or unnecessary information on them, I focused on giving them one solid nugget of truth that they could walk away with.

This began my journey to present with people and not at them.

Healthy communication is oxygen. When we speak with people, we breathe life into them. We take them on a journey with their needs in mind. We empathize with them and we put ourselves in their shoes. We listen to their needs and problems and craft a message that walks them through a plan and solution that will help them succeed. We really do breathe life into them with our words.

My challenge to you is to choose to present with people and not at them.

Maybe you’re wondering, how do I know if I am presenting with or at people? That’s a great question! Speak with People has created a QUIZ that will help you determine if you tend to present with or at people. Take your time. Answer honestly, objectively, and truthfully.

The good news is whether you present with or at people, Speak with People has created the Public Speaking Pathway, which will equip and empower you to speak with people and not at them. This pathway is a helpful guide for communicating with incredible clarity and effectiveness. This pathway gives you the unique ability to communicate in a healthy way that demonstrates deep empathy, forming a connection with your audience that is humble, transparent, and captivating.

This pathway will help you to become:

  • A truly healthy, empathetic and deeply authentic leader.
  • An exceptionally effective, clear and captivating communicator. 
  • The kind of communicator that inspires their audience to lean in.

Make sure to join us the next two weeks on the podcast and the blog as we walk through the Speak with People Public Speaking Pathway. We learn how this pathway can become an incredible and integral part of your communication process.

Do you present WITH people or AT people?


By Jason Raitz - Founder, Speak with People