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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2004

Help is out there for public speakers

 •  Speaking tips

By Dick Hogan
Fort Myers, Fla., News-Press

To master the art of the deal, you've got to know the art of the spiel.

Yet business people still find themselves thrust into public speaking roles without formal training.

"I started my career at IBM in the sales and marketing division, and there was a tremendous amount of pressure, coaching and opportunity to give product demonstrations and seminars to prepare the staff to be effective public speakers," said Carol Conway, owner of Computer Rescue Squad in Fort Myers, Fla.

"Practice makes perfect — just getting out there and making speeches on a frequent basis."

Most people, Conway learned, "are only going to absorb a very small percentage of what you have to say. With that in mind, it's extremely helpful to have visual, verbal and anecdotal cues to reinforce one or two points."

But she's stopped using PowerPoint presentations.

"You have all those sexy graphics and music, but the lights go off and people disconnect," she said. "Instead of watching the speaker, they're watching the screen."

Jon Greiner, president-elect of Toastmasters International — which puts on programs to foster effective leadership and communication skills — said his group's work has never been more important.

"A lot of young people have spent a lot of time in front of the computer and they don't have the social skills to make a presentation to a lot of people," said Greiner, a product support manager for Caterpillar Inc. in Peoria, Ind. "But as they go into the working world, many are being thrown into those roles. They need the skills and they find themselves lacking."

Generally, he said, Toastmaster training can turn someone into an effective public speaker in a year or so.

Some people say they were forced to learn speaking skills as circumstances arose that required new abilities.

"My first year I was dog meat," said real estate broker Randy Thibaut. "I realized if that was what I was going to do, I should do a first-class job for myself and the people who listen. I went out and invested the dollars to hire a speaking coach to work with me all year round to better my speaking skills, pronunciation, inflection of voice, and that's what made me a better speaker."

Thibaut's coach is Keith Grossman, an attorney who is a Lee County, Fla., courts administrator for a mediation program and also has the designation of Advanced Toastmaster from Toastmasters International.

Don't look at public speaking as a separate skill, he advises. "The skills are those you use on a daily basis, talking to colleagues or being at a meeting, giving a brief three-minute presentation on a project you're working on."

Many people he helps train are just plain scared to stand up in front of a big audience, Grossman said.

Once you learn the basics, Greiner said, poor speaking sticks out like a sore thumb.

"I cringe every time I hear a really bad speaker," he said. "And that could include the president of the United States or (former presidential candidate) Howard Dean or the minister at church."

• • •

Speaking tips

Here are 10 tips on public speaking, offered by the private, nonprofit Toastmasters International:

• Know the room. Be familiar with the place in which you will speak. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids.

• Know the audience. Greet some members of the audience as they arrive. It's easier to speak to a group of friends than to a group of strangers.

• Know your material. If you're not familiar with your material or are uncomfortable with it, your nervousness will increase. Practice your speech and revise it if necessary.

• Relax. Ease tension by doing exercises.

• Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking with your voice loud, clear and assured. When you visualize yourself as successful, you will be successful.

• Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They don't want you to fail.

• Don't apologize. If you mention your nervousness or apologize for any problems you think you have with your speech, you may be calling the audience's attention to something they hadn't noticed.

• Concentrate on the message — not the medium. Focus your attention away from your own anxieties and outwardly toward your message and your audience. Your nervousness will dissipate.

• Turn nervousness into positive energy. Harness your nervous energy and transform it into vitality and enthusiasm.

• Gain experience. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking.

Fort Myers News-Press