- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2002

Lenore Sek of Northwest has learned to face an audience without fidgeting or mumbling.
Although she used to be apprehensive about talking before large groups, she overcame her anxiety by attending local meetings of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. It teaches public speaking and leadership skills through practice and feedback.
"I became very nervous when I spoke publicly to the point of freezing a couple times," she says. "I feel better about the job I do now. I feel more confident. I still get nervous, but I'm able to control it."
Public speaking is one of the biggest fears of Americans, often outranking other concerns, even death, according to a 1993 study done by the nationwide polling firm Bruskin-Goldring Research Inc. in Edison, N.J. However, the skill is crucial to many professions, and instructors insist it can be mastered with practice.
Ms. Sek, who works as a trade specialist at the Congressional Research Service, a division of the Library of Congress in Southeast, participates in the Toastmasters International club that gathers at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The group, which is open to the public, meets at 12:15 p.m. on the second and fourth Friday of every month.
Ralph C. Smedley, who spent much of his life working with the YMCA,began Toastmasters International (www.toastmasters.org) in 1924 in Santa Ana, Calif., to help others speak more effectively. Membership costs $38 a year, plus local club dues. Toastmasters has about 9,200 clubs in more than 70 countries.
Alfred Herzing, the immediate past president of Toastmasters International, says members practice public speaking by giving speeches to group members. He says nervousness about public speaking lessens with practice.Although everyone is expected to speak at Toastmasters, individuals decide how often they want to give a presentation, Mr. Herzing says.
"Public speaking is not a skill you can learn by reading a book," he says. "You need to stand up and practice in front of an audience. We'll never get your butterflies to go away, but at least we'll get them to fly in formation."
New members of Toastmasters International begin by delivering a speech about themselves. The second speech is usually about a subject the person can deliver with sincerity. With the third presentation, members begin to explore the mechanics of public speaking, which include using proper speech structure and gestures.
For instance, every speech needs an opening, body and conclusion, similar to the structure of a term paper, Mr. Herzing says.
Possible openings include complimenting the audience, posing a question, or reciting a quote or puzzling statement. The body of the speech should include demonstrations, examples, statistics, analogies and success stories. However, speakers should not read directly from a script. Instead, they are to put key points on note cards, allowing themselves to make eye contact with listeners.
When individuals give speeches, they should be aware of how they are using their hands. Often, presenters mindlessly wave their hands in front of their bodies. Mr. Herzing says it makes them look like they are mixing a salad.
On the contrary, their gestures should complement their words. If someone is talking about the heights of the mountain, the person could raise their hands to help the audience visualize the mountain peak. Using props as visual aids also helps to reinforce a message.
In addition to giving prepared speeches, members of Toastmasters International learn impromptu speaking skills, which come in handy in everyday life, Mr. Herzing says.
During "table topics" exercises, one member poses a question that doesn't have a right or wrong answer. The person responding is supposed to rely on opinions and personal experiences. This teaches people to think off the top of their heads.
"My own personal table topic came at my grandfather's funeral when my grandmother leaned over and said, 'We'd like you to say a few words to the family,'" he says. "Even as a parent, when your kid comes to you and asks you where babies come from, you think, 'How am I going to answer this?'"
Mr. Herzing suggests taking a couple seconds to think about what is being asked before giving an answer. Make an initial statement, explain the reasons for this thought and give a conclusion.
"Tell them what you're going to tell them," he says. "Tell them, and tell them what you told them."
Public speakers should remember the foundations of a good presentation, such as tonality and smiling, says Bob Cook, managing partner at Dale Carnegie Training in Timonium, Md.
The for-profit organization is a global provider of classes in leadership, sales, interpersonal and communications skills. It has about 2,700 consultants, who have undergone at least 18 months of training to become certified in the group's curriculum. Classes range from $895 to $1,695 for six- to 12-week sessions.
"It sounds very basic, but it's amazing how people under pressure forget the fundamentals," Mr. Cook says.
Videotaping a presentation is an effective way to see if a person is delivering a compelling speech, he says. Coaching someone while the videotape is rolling gives a person record of a practice session.
"They have an opportunity to see what they do on their own and what it looks like more effectively," Mr. Cook says. "What's comfortable isn't always most effective."
If speakers are hoping to see results from their audiences, Mr. Cook says, they should conclude their speeches by presenting the group with a challenge. He says that statement should be followed by outlining the benefits of engaging in the action. The clinching statements could also include a quote or a short story that illustrates the point of the speech.
"People buy the benefit," he says. "People want to know what's in it for them."
The key factor in relating a message to an audience is making sure the speech is easy to follow, says Andrew Wolvin, professor of communication at the University of Maryland in College Park. Choosing the appropriate way to present the speech depends on knowing the audience and what listeners wants to hear.
Mr. Wolvin, who holds a Ph.D. in communication, also gives private lessons as a speech coach. The cost varies depending on the project.
"Know yourself, your audience and your goal," he says. "People's attention is so limited. Keep the listener engaged."
Most importantly, Mr. Wolvin says, people giving speeches need to imagine themselves delivering successful presentations.
"It's very much like how sports psychologists take athletes through an event," he says. "Visualize that you will win, and you'll get through the clutter and reach your goal."


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