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Mastering the Art of Public Speaking
September 2012

People frequently ask, "If there was only one thing you could recommend for improving leadership, what would it be?" My answer: "Use your mouth. Preferably for speaking. And if you don't know how, learn."

Yes, I'm talking about public speaking. Since so much of our communication with others is verbal, developing public speaking skills is essential for improving your leadership.

Let's face it, if you want to lead, you have to be able to communicate verbally. If you assume leadership positions with greater and greater authority, you will be giving more speeches, or doing more presentations, of some kind.

But this skill is important even if you aren't in a position of authority. Remember that leadership is everyone's business, and even if you aren't a supervisor or manager, you're still trying to influence people.

We usually think of "public speaking" as giving a speech before a large group. But the skills you develop in public speaking are quite helpful in smaller groups, and in one-on-one conversations.

Heck, the only time you're not engaging in public speaking is when you're alone, and talking to yourself. (Even then, however, what you say and how you talk to yourself is important, because it influences your self-esteem and optimism—but I'll leave that for another article!)

How do you improve? You've got lots of options. One is taking a public speaking course at your local college. Or, attend one- or two-day seminars on this topic. The Internet is another resource.

Plug "public speaking" into Google, and you get over a million web pages. Most of these are really selling services or books to improve your public speaking, but a lot of them have free content that can be very helpful.

And, speaking of books, the local bookstore, online bookstores, and your public library have tons of titles on public speaking. Another way to improve is to get a mentor, someone who knows about public speaking, and will give you honest feedback on what you need to improve.

But by far the best way to improve your speaking skills is to join a local Toastmasters Club. I hate to sound like a commercial, but Toastmasters really is a great organization for improving your speaking skills.

One reason is that Toastmasters is for all speaking levels—from novices who have never spoken publicly (but realize they need to learn), to experienced members who have been giving speeches for decades.

Another great feature of Toastmasters is that whenever you give a speech, you get immediate feedback from a formal Evaluation by an experienced Toastmaster, who provides verbal and written comments. You can also get feedback from other members who observe your speech.

Yet another reason is that Toastmasters provides a non-threatening, nurturing environment where people want to help you improve.

Finally, Toastmasters meetings provide a safe place to test new material. If you have a presentation to give to your Board of Directors, why not test it out on your Toastmasters chapter first?

Some Toastmasters clubs meet bi-weekly, some monthly, and some weekly. They start you off with the basics, teaching you important things like dealing with nervousness (and believe me, we all deal with that!), vocal variety, and using gestures.

As you progress, you can choose other areas to focus on, such as storytelling, or using humor. The point is that Toastmasters teaches you the art of public speaking, no matter what your experience level. I speak from experience, since I joined my first chapter in 1991.

To find a Toastmasters Club near you, visit their website at

Improving your public speaking skills is a great way to improve your leadership. What are you doing to improve your ability to use your mouth? If you're not doing anything, what's holding you back? When will you start?