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Mastering the Art of Public Speaking

Confidence in Speaking to Groups Is a Powerful Asset in Any Profession

Mastering the Art of Public Speaking

By Caroline M.L. Potter, Yahoo! HotJobs

Mention the words "public speaking," and many folks start to quake in their boots: A market-research survey of 3,000 Americans found that they feared speaking in public more than heights, financial problems, sickness and even death. But aside from being an irrational phobia, a fear of public speaking can negatively impact your career.

A UC Berkeley study revealed that people who speak up in business meetings are seen as more competent than quieter colleagues, even when their comments aren't valuable. Further, most management positions require some level of public speaking, even if it's simply addressing small groups of staff members. Being comfortable with public speaking helps you exude confidence -- which is crucial when you're interviewing for new positions, say, or asking for a raise. It can also help you bond with customers and colleagues.

While there are lots of tricks and tips to help you relax while speaking in public, practice is key. To get hands-on practice and feedback while you grow as a public speaker, you might consider joining Toastmasters International. Joel Goyette, a marketing professional with OpenTable, has been a member of Toastmasters for nearly two years. He joined just after graduating college, inspired by the teaching style of a favorite professor, who steered him toward Toastmasters when he asked for insights on becoming a more powerful presenter. "After one meeting, I was sold," Goyette said. "The speakers were phenomenal, and the content of interest to me."

He credits the unique structure of Toastmasters for giving him the confidence to speak and up and participate at work. "There are two parts to every Toastmasters meeting -- prepared speeches and table topics. In completing the speeches, I became aware of how to effectively present an idea, topic or project and be a strong presenter. I've also learned how to actively participate with an audience, adapting along the way to best suit the audience," he says. "'Table topics' is the impromptu-speaking portion of the meeting, during which people are randomly called upon to speak. This has given me the cognizance and structure to slow down, think and formulate a logical response before speaking. These skills are critical in meetings where you don't know what the next question will be."

Goyette now loves speaking to groups and isn't nervous, something he says is possible for all participants. "With support and encouragement, some of the shyest and least-confident members have become phenomenal speakers. Toastmasters helps people become better speakers by providing a structure to learn effective public-speaking techniques such as overcoming nervous ticks, eliminating filler words ("ah," "um," "like" and so on), and paying attention to body language and eye contact, as well as providing a sandbox in which to play and improve self-confidence," he states.

The skills he continues to gain gave Goyette the confidence to organize and host an autism awareness event in San Francisco, and they help him to expand his network. "I have met countless professionals, been invited to deliver a speech to an audience of 1,000 people and made new friends," he says.

Finding a Toastmasters International Chapter Near You 

1. Search on Toastmasters International by zip code. There are more than 12,500 clubs in 106 countries.

2. Contact the club to arrange to be a guest at a meeting, to increase your comfort level.

3. Don't be afraid to audit several different clubs. "I encourage all of our guests to visit other clubs before joining to make sure they feel at home with our members," Goyette says. "As with any social group, shop around until you find a club you are excited to be part of due to professional similarities with members, speaking level, meeting schedule and so on.

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