How to Use Public Speaking Skills at Work

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By Marcelle Yeager

When it comes down to it, public speaking is not an easy skill. Some people are naturally good at it, and others have to work at it. That's why there are specialized courses and groups out there to help people improve their public speaking ability.

When we hear the term "public speaking," we generally think of standing in front of large crowds and giving presentations. However, there are much broader applications for methods typically associated with public speaking. For instance, they can be used while speaking to smaller groups, even during an internal meeting at work. These techniques can also be used in other everyday work situations that are less obvious.

In the Q&A below, Gary Schmidt, former international president of Toastmasters, shares his thoughts on how public speaking skills can be applied to a variety of common work settings:How can you use public speaking techniques to advocate for yourself and your work when you're going for a promotion?

Working on your speaking skills enables you to polish your communication and leadership skills and increase confidence (areas that are key to career advancement). Self-confidence is key for taking on projects you might otherwise not handle.

Another skill or strength that's helpful when advocating for yourself is the ability to think on your feet. You can practice this by organizing your thoughts within a short timeframe to respond to an impromptu question or topic. This way, when a colleague or your boss asks you a tough question, you will feel confident speaking off the cuff.

You may be doing the best work in your entire organization, but if no one knows about it, it will not help you progress in your career. The solution: speak up! But do it at the right time in the right place in the right way. An organization like Toastmasters teaches you to speak clearly and concisely, in an organized manner and with confidence. So when you have 30 seconds with your boss or another superior in the hallway or elevator, you can briefly describe the great work you are doing on a project in a humble and charming way.

What are some ways you can employ public speaking principles to better communicate with your boss and co-workers?

Don't rely on email and technology tools. Instead, become a strong face-to-face communicator and learn the importance of tone and body language. Many tasks and projects fail because of ineffective communication. That's why it is important to practice by doing. The more you practice delivering clear messages and feedback, the easier it will become.

Good speakers are also good listeners who pay careful attention to their audience and are receptive to feedback. It is important to notice nonverbal cues, such as eye contact and body language, in order to read an individual or audience to see if they are engaged.

Are there particular public speaking methods you can employ to improve your negotiation and influencing skills?

The most important thing to consider when attempting to influence others is to know the audience and their needs. It's important to act confidently, even if you don't feel confident. Let your passion show. Be organized, clear and concise. Learn to effectively speak impromptu. Co-workers, and especially your boss, will know if you are unprepared. Influencing is not about you, the speaker. It's about what you can do to solve a problem for the audience.

How can you better present your work and ideas on the job, even in informal meetings?

Strong communication skills enable employees to not only become better public speakers, but also better listeners who can be relied upon to give valuable comments and recommendations. Employees should always be prepared to present their ideas with their boss, board member or colleague. Public speaking groups provide a supportive environment for learning communication skills that are increasingly valuable in the workplace.

Public speaking is not only about being able to deliver an effective presentation to a group. Employees can apply its principles to many different situations in the workplace. Utilizing these techniques can help you improve your communication, influencing and advocating skills to help you progress in your career.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
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