Speaking Skills in Business

Author:Jan Hargrave

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Studies show that Americans' number-one fear is public speaking. Actors, television personalities, and public speakers all feel it. So do salespeople, community leaders, and managers who are called on to make seemingly routine presentations.

Experienced speakers, though, know how to combat stage fright. Through careful planning, proper training, and conscious relaxation exercises, these speakers have learned how to channel fear into control and confidence. All people have the actual skills needed for good presentations; using these skills in front of an audience is the area in which training is needed. Good communication and successful speaking skills can be learned.

In defining a presentation, this article begins with one end of the spectrum, something that is loosely called a speech. Most speeches have very little impact because they do not ask the speaker to do anything, whereas the very definition of the word present is "to bring, to give a gift to." This implies that a giver (a presenter) is tuned in to what the recipient (the audience) wants. What response do we get when we give someone a gift of something he or she really wants? What response do we get when we give someone a gift that he or she really doesn't like? The difference between these two is the difference between sharing a meaningful message and delivering a speech. Audiences dislike being talked to; they eagerly await speakers who drive home a point or idea that they can readily use in their personal or professional lives.

When imparting information, two things are happening simultaneously:

The presenter is making a commitment to the audience. The presenter is working to prove a point that will win the support of the audience or that will generate action.

The audience is making a judgment on the presenter, asking such questions as, "Do I really trust this person?" "Does this information make any sense?" "Are the facts presented accurate?"

A person who has accepted an invitation to speak should answer three questions before beginning to think about what to say and how to say it:

Who is the audience?

What does the audience want to know?

What is the best way to provide the audience with the information they want?

Most presentations are given for one of five reasons: to entertain, inform, inspire, convince, or persuade. Once

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the purpose is determined, a talk should be organized around three main parts:

Introduction: This "hooks" the audience, entices people to listen, and previews what is to come. Effective introductory devices include questions, dramatic or humorous statements, jokes, anecdotes, and personal experiences.

Body: This is the subject—the meat of the speech. It should relate the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the...

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