Professional Development: It’s Time to Improve Your Presentation Skills

You’ve likely heard this quote:  “In a survey about what people fear the most, speaking in public edged out dying.”

While I question the existence of this now legendary survey, it is at least not far from the truth for many individuals.

Whether you enjoy speaking in public or would rather have honey smeared all over you and be staked to an anthill, the ability to speak effectively in public is one of the admission tickets to success in many professions.  Master this art form and doors open effortlessly in front of you.

A very wise manager once indicated something to the effect of, “you will be as successful as you are able to communicate.”  It’s an odd twist of words, but the point is clear.

I credit another teacher, Mr. McSherry, at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, IL with helping me move beyond my fear of speaking.  From Freshman Speech to his courses in Argumentation and Public Broadcasting, and as coach of the Debate Team, he helped many of us hone our skills and develop a passion for the podium.  I’ve tried to pass this along in my professional career.

Whether you are one of the survey respondents above or someone that has honed your skills and developed some degree of confidence and competence at public speaking, it’s important to recognize that you can always improve.

Speaking in public is much like playing an instrument.  You never really master an instrument.  Great performers constantly push themselves to explore new areas and new limits and the best speakers do the same.

During one of his many visits to the aforementioned Hersey High School in the late 70’s, Doc Severinson, the bandleader for The Tonight Show and an accomplished trumpet player told the audience of concert band enthusiasts, “If I don’t practice for one day, I can tell.  If I go two days without practicing, my band can tell. After three days, everyone can tell.”

How much time do you spend practicing this skill?

Timothy Koegel, author of The Exceptional Presenter—A Proven Formula to Open Up and Own the Room (2007) offers up a similar quote on practice from a speaker in this excellent and helpful book.  I checked it out from the library and found it so practical and useful that I ordered it and will add it to my collection of professional tools.

The Exceptional Presenter offers practical advice for:

  • Crafting your message
  • Relating to your audience,
  • Managing your own physical positioning and body language
  • Managing question and answer sessions
  • Recognizing and overcoming common bad habits
  • Leveraging passion as a powerful speaking tool
  • And much more in this idea and exercise packed little book

Koegel’s stated goals in the book are to:

1.    Provide a proven formula that will enable you to communicate at an exceptional level in any venue to any audience.

2.    Share practice methods that help you develop skills that will not fail under pressure.

3.    Serve as your personal diary to document your improvement.

In my opinion, he succeeds in good order.  If you’ve postponed thinking about and acting on improving this part of your professional skill set, The Exceptional Presenter is a great way to jump start your development program.

The Bottom Line for Now:

Of course, it’s impossible to improve your skills by reading a book without putting the ideas into practice. Seek out opportunities at work to stand up and talk.  If you are not comfortable practicing at work, it’s surprising how many opportunities you might find in your community through school activities or church groups.  The important lesson is to start practicing and keep at it.

If you are really hungry for a development opportunity, consider joining a local  chapter of Toastmasters. I know many professionals that credit much of their speaking success to the lessons learned and support provide at Toastmasters.

You may never completely overcome the nervous anxiety that accompanies the lead up to a public presentation, but you can definitely improve your success.  Remember, you will be as successful as you are able to communicate.  You heard it here.

By | 2016-10-22T17:12:16+00:00 January 9th, 2009|Career|0 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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