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Speaking up for success

Why be a good communicator? If you’re not a natural-born orator and you’re not in the entertainment industry, why are public speaking skills so important?

I’m not just talking about standing up and delivering a planned presentation. I mean being able to talk to others easily, clearly and powerfully about yourself, your job and why it’s important – to your seatmate in the airplane, passers-by at a trade expo and co-workers in a last-minute meeting and also when you’re delivering a planned presentation.

Within companies, communication directly influences morale, performance and profit. Translation: Communication has an effect on the bottom line. A 2011 article in The Holmes Report reported an estimated $37 billion was lost annually due to poor communication in 400 large businesses in the U.S. and U.K. These losses resulted from misinformation about job functions, company policies and business processes in 100,000-employee companies. The average cost per company? A stunning $62.4 million per year.

The power of communication luckily works the other way. In the same study, companies led by “highly effective” communicators reported 47 percent higher total returns than those with “least effective” communicators, over a five-year period.

But let’s get specific. How can effective public speaking help you and your business? Let me count the ways, with help from clients working in the Treasure Valley.

Gain clients

While the world of telecommuting and remote conferences has made in-person presentations a rarer commodity, many who conduct business around the nation and world still prefer interacting in person. Linda Handlos, director of operations at Milligan Events, notes, “meeting with a prospect or client face-to-face is incredibly valuable. Having even a foundational knowledge of public speaking skills has helped our presentations – and our business – tremendously.”

Make connections

When people see you speak in public, they gather valuable clues about you that they couldn’t glean from just a website or print materials: your personality, working style and energy level. Stephanie Mullani, creator and owner of Natural Girl Diary, puts it this way: “Every time I speak in public, I meet someone who decides to do business with me based on the ideas and energy in my speech. I feel like it leads me to the people I was meant to do business with.”

Represent your skills

In many fields, your authority and success rest largely on your how you present yourself orally. Brian DeFriez, an estate attorney at Idaho Law Group, experiences this every day. “In my everyday practice, whether in speaking to a judge or to potential clients, I have to be comfortable, competent and convincing,” he explains.

Harness the power of group-think

As J.R. Smith of Provision Financial says, “Good presentations build energy and motivation that are harder to achieve in individual settings. They also provide a public forum where attendees hear questions and answers that may not occur to any one person. This broadens everyone’s understanding.”

Increase opportunities

When I asked clients to share thoughts on public speaking, the word they used most often was “opportunity” – they view speaking as a lucky break rather than a burden. Sheila Spangler, director of the Idaho Women’s Business Center, jumps on every offer: “Any time someone asks me to speak at an event, conference or meeting, I say yes.”

One longtime client experienced opportunity more literally. We met after a divorce and poor job conditions had erased her self-confidence and her voice. A year later, after some dynamic performances in company meetings and public venues, she landed a job out of state for more than twice her salary.

Fortunately, public speaking is a skill you can acquire, with a little help and a lot of practice. Denise McClure, an accountant and owner of Averti Fraud Solutions, offers this advice: “Get a coach and start practicing. With practice, you can learn to enjoy public speaking – not so with taxes!”

Nancy Buffington holds a doctorate in English; she has taught writing and public speaking for more than 20 years at five universities, including Stanford and Boise State. She opened Boise SpeakWell, a public speaking consulting business, in 2011.

About Nancy Buffington