Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ice your fears of public speaking

For many people, public speaking is a paralyzing exercise: sweaty palms, an errant leg shake or the sudden inability to speak coherently.

But in the business world, speaking confidently in public is a must-have skill for many professions. It's also key for any worker who is eying a leadership role, is looking for a job, has customer-service duties or is considering consulting work.

Workers can soothe public-speaking jitters with constant practice, good preparation and help from others, experts say.

And embrace the jitters. Speech skills sharpen over time, but seasoned public figures still flub or get nervous. Remember Gov. Jan Brewer's widely discussed pause during a televised 2010 gubernatorial debate? An Oscar-award-winning movie, The King's Speech, delves into King George VI of Britain's quest to nail an important speech.

Mastering her fear of talking in front of a crowd helped Karen Dolyniuk, now a manager at Pinnacle West Capital Corp., move up within the company, she said.

But that confidence came with time. Have you been to a staff meeting when the boss asks everyone to say their name and what they do at the company?

"My palms used to sweat, just doing that," Dolyniuk, 49, said with a laugh.

"It's hard to explain. I used to think, 'Do I have something to say that people would want to listen to?'" She later added: "I knew that I had to do something about it."

Public speaking is an essential workplace skill. Even a technology worker who spends hours behind a computer screen may have to train people or explain an issue to higher-ups at some point, said Jessica Pierce, executive director of Career Connectors, a non-profit networking group that serves Phoenix-area job seekers.

"As you are working your way up the corporate ladder, you will have to present a staff meeting, you will have to present yourself to customers," Pierce said. For job hunters, the skill is even more critical. Volunteering to speak to groups about their area of expertise helps job seekers build their personal brand in the community, which can help them land a job.

Also, more employers are doing group interviews to save time -- but some job candidates can't handle situations where they must sell themselves to several company officials at once.

"I know so many people more than qualified for a job, but if there are more than two or three interviewers in a room, they completely bomb it."

That's where practice comes in. Don't wait until a big speech rolls around. Volunteer to make a small presentation to your team, introduce a new employee or speak up at a club meeting. That will make you more comfortable with it, Pierce said.

Preparation also helps, added Fred Doidge, who calls himself the "doctor of public speaking."

An ordained minister for 40 years, the Scottsdale-based consultant teaches authors, lawyers, housewives and whoever else approaches him techniques for speaking more effectively.

He said the speaker must first be well-prepared and practiced, have a well-organized presentation, design the presentation specifically for the intended group and pick a specific style to use.

"Never write a speech. Design it and build it," Doidge said. "What are you trying to do? Inform people, motivate people. ...What's the intention?"

For many people seeking to hone their public-speaking skills, groups such as Toastmasters offer a chance to practice and the benefit of moral support.

Since 1924, Toastmasters has helped nervous public speakers work through their troubles and learn.

The non-profit has 13,000 chapters globally with more than 270,000 members.

The group meetings tend to vary in length but often last between 60 and 90 minutes, have 20 to 40 members and charge a $36 fee every six months.

"I just wanted to do Toastmasters because I always was uncomfortable speaking in public, and I would like to be a good speaker in general," said Judy Blum, 59, a caseworker and recent member of Toastmasters.

The organization has seen steady growth over the past decade, during the economic downturn, too. In 2000, Toastmasters had about 176,000 members but has grown by almost 100,000 people in 2011.

Dolyniuk, the Pinnacle West manager, joined Toastmasters in 1989. Over time, she become a more confident speaker and took on more leadership roles in the company.

As a loaned executive for Valley of the Sun United Way, she spoke to groups of up to 100 people.

Before she conquered her fear, Dolyniuk said, she used to sit in the back row at similar gatherings and marvel at the speaker.

"I used to think 'Wow, how do they do that? I could never do that.' "

by William D'Urso and Jahna Berry The Arizona Republic Oct. 29, 2011 01:21 PM

Ice your fears of public speaking

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