Since it's impossible to determine the exact monetary benefit, some of us find it difficult to justify investing time in public speaking and presentation skills when there is a pre-existing laundry list of to-dos that is yammering for attention. As a result, we keep participation in such a class on the wish list of things to do, along with exercising. But in choosing to back-burner these invaluable skills, we voluntarily chain ourselves to the verbal and nonverbal bad habits we've picked up along the way.
The opportunity to invest in your own public speaking and presentation skills is priceless and not one that you should let slip away. Whether you give presentations daily or annually, to either your coworkers or the VP of Insert Acronym Here, you will benefit from the wisdom and experience that professional communicators offer, and will walk away itching to apply everything you've learned to every conversation.
Several days ago, I attended my first (and, assuredly, not the last) public speaking class – Presenting in a Customer Environment. The skills that Mandel Communications instructor Candie Hurley taught me are so far-reaching and relevant that I believe it should be re-titled “Presenting in Any Environment.” I found its methods – interactive teaching coupled with video-recorded (and peer-reviewed) student practice – to be effective and compelling.
Whether you're persuading one key decision maker or informing several hundred industry enthusiasts, a public speaking class will guide you through a process that integrates presentation goals with audience expectations. In mine, the students identified a presentation they'd theoretically give and the desired audience action both during and after message delivery. This crucial step is the beginning of the carefully calculated blueprint, which helps you strategically plan each moment of your presentation.
One of the benefits the 21st century has endowed upon us is the gift of global business and communication. Due to geographic decentralization, you might not always present information face-to-face. Since studies show that 55 percent of communication is visual, the challenge becomes engaging an audience that you cannot see, and that cannot see you. A presentation and public speaking class will teach you how to ensure that your tone (another 38 percent of communication) is conveyed to a “blind” listener through vocal animation.
Should you be lucky enough to deliver your presentation in the same room as your listener, you'll find that tips about posture, pauses, and movement can immediately transform your presence as a presenter. Since the audience will undoubtedly make a snap judgment about your trustworthiness and competence in less than a second, you cannot afford to wait until message delivery to convey genuineness. While I knew that the obvious “I'm cold” crossed arms look communicates at best closedness and at worst hostility, I hadn't realized what other subliminal messages my hands and arms were giving, unbidden. The instructor's and my peers' feedback helped me to identify my bad habits and begin to change them.
One of the challenges my classmates voiced was getting feedback from a room or conference call full of silent people – conquering the crickets. We were taught how to use body language and gestures (or alternatively, webinar technology) to effectively solicit feedback and questions from the audience. This skill is complemented by the ability to answer challenging questions in a way that solidifies your position while maintaining composure and identifying with the listener.
In contrast with exercise, which requires weeks of diligence before you see results, the skills I learned from this public speaking class will be employable immediately. In fact, I wrote this blog post using the presentation recipe I was taught in my class – to first address the situation, a complication, and its implications, and then to state my position, share my goal for the reader, and enumerate the benefits of achieving this goal. These skills are applicable beyond just slides and charts; they can be adapted to emails, voice mails, and – nirvana! – real time conversation.
Imagine for a moment how much money companies spend for brand reputation consulting, and consider investing in your own perception management. If you don't make these interpersonal skills a priority and instead wait for an engraved invitation to improve them, you'll waste years on mediocre presentations that could have been great. Trust me – you have time for this class.