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Enter, Stage Fright

Enter, Stage Fright

While many executive aptitudes fall in and out of vogue, the ability to explain an idea and inspire support is perennial. Motivating people with different interests to rally behind a common goal is a rare talent

SIDEBAR: Tips on Public Speaking

  • Write your own introduction.
  • Establish rapport with the audience early. Get them involved. Ask them questions.
  • Be flexible. Play off your audience.
  • What you say is not as important as how you say it.
  • Self-effacing humour works best.
  • Don't give a talk — have a conversation. People want stories, not information.
  • The presentation does not have to be great. If your audience gets one good idea from your talk, it will have been worthwhile.
  • The three toughest audiences to address are engineers, accountants and high school students.
  • Today's most popular speaking topic: change and how to cope with it.
  • You can't please everybody, so don't even try.
  • Be totally authentic.
  • The only way to overcome what you fear is to do it.
  • With speaking, everything you see, read, hear, do or experience is grist for your mill.
  • People like speakers who are humble; audiences hate braggarts.
  • Take a course in public speaking. Join a speakers association such as Toastmasters or Rotary.
  • Listen to great speakers and learn from them.
  • Use audiovisual aids, but not as a crutch.
  • There is no failure — just feedback.
  • Practice makes perfect. If you want to become a good speaker give as many talks as you can.
  • If you must use PowerPoint, no more than five words to a line and no more than five lines to a screen.
  • No one has ever complained about a speech being too short.

Sources: Dr Rob Gilbert, sports psychologist and motivational speaker, New Jersey; Christine Maher, managing director of Celebrity Speakers, Sydney; Juliet Jordan, CEO of The Voice Business, Sydney; John Kolm, managing director of Team Results, Melbourne

SIDEBAR: Are You Speaking to Me?

In the US, public speaking has become an art form where the cult of the C-level executive means presentation skills are highly prized and handsomely rewarded. In some circles it is known as the "martial art of speaking". Speaking coaches say there is a reason people pay more for entertainment than education. That is why it takes a university lecturer 10 years to earn what Oprah Winfrey gets paid per week.

Veteran award-winning writer and director Robert McKee has taken his lectures on the art of storytelling worldwide for more than 20 years to an audience of writers, directors, producers, actors - and business executives. While graduates of McKee's courses have won 19 Academy Awards and written such recent hits as A Beautiful Mind, Lord of the Rings (the movie), Frasier and Sex And The City, he is often asked by business people to transform mundane PowerPoint presentations into memorable stories.

McKee instructs people to embrace the dramas that surround all businesses and explain how they were overcome. He advises executives to tell a compelling story, so convinced is he that this is the only way to persuade customers or staff to believe in your product or follow your vision.

McKee's argument is that people forget lists and bullet points. They only remember stories. He advises presenters to regard their performances not as an intellectual process but as an emotional one, because people are not inspired to act by reason alone.

And there are thousands looking for inspiration. A recent survey of major event organisers in the US revealed that the number of technology speaking opportunities on the US conference circuit alone is expected to double this year. Hot topics include security, distance learning, Web services and wireless. One conference organiser cited more than 1500 speaking opportunities last year that were available to any company with a qualified speaker.

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