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How To Improve Your Public Speaking And Presentation Skills

By - Source: Toms IT Pro
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IT pros often avoid the spotlight, failing to recognize that effective public speaking and presentation skills are an important part of the job. Improving on one's presentation skills can lead to better job prospects, promotions and other opportunities.

In a recent post on CompTIA's IT Career News blog, Natalie Hope McDonald explains how IT professionals can Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking. In the blog post, she digs into the work of Gary Genard, a Boston-based public speaking specialist who works with business and computing professionals nationwide who seek to boost their presentation and public speaking skills. This blog post is very much worth reading, most particularly for the numerous great points it makes about how and why IT pros can improve and build upon their presentation skills. This is not a piece about how to build more effective PowerPoint slide decks, however—it focuses on the type and kind of communications that make for a good presentation, and the rhetorical focus that IT pros need to understand and develop rapport with an audience. Below we look at some key points from the blog post and tips on how to utilize them.

Tips For Improving Public Speaking Skills

  • Become a more credible communicator by getting inside the heads of the audience and pitching communications to fit their mindsets, their needs, and their understanding. A corollary here is to understand that while technical details may be the meat and potatoes of IT, such details may range anywhere from irrelevant to terribly boring to audience members who don't relish such things.
  • Learning to translate technical concepts into plausible and intelligible sound bites is a great way to bridge gaps in skills, knowledge, and understanding between the presenter and his or her audience.
  • Framing a narrative, or story, around a presentation, and inviting attendees into that story, is a great way to create interest and establish communications with the audience. Learning to read audience cues and behavior, and responding appropriately (and quickly) helps to build upon those communications, and create an informative and interesting experience for everyone.
  • Here"s a great quote: "The key to overcoming fear of public speaking is to lose oneself and making sure that the audience is the focus." Key related questions to ask of oneself while presenting include: "How am I coming across? How can I relate to the audience? How can I tell a story they can use that also reflects well on me/my organization/my goals?"
  • Genard makes the point that being direct and personable are qualities that distinguish effective communicators. This is the best way to help get one's message across, and ensures that information is not just delivered, but also well-received by the audience.
  • Another great quote: "The biggest mistake presenters make it to think they are in a presentation to deliver content. But really they are there to influence the audience positively. They use content, but what's more important is how they come across." In my own work as an expert legal witness, I have heard this same advice to frame how important demeanor and confident, personable delivery are to successful testimony. It's equally true for anyone who has to present to an audience.
  • Genard's workshops cover the whole presentation experience, including audience persuasion, powerful openings and closings, vocal expressiveness and storytelling, body language, building rapport with audiences, handling Q&A and push back. All of these elements play into a successful presentation, and all are worth developing and cultivating.

Above and beyond this blog post, there's the notion that oral communication is a strong, career-enhancing soft skill that can help any IT pro further his or her professional capabilities and opportunities. That's why this is something I dig into in all of my writings about soft skills (check out this Google Search for access to more tips, especially on developing soft skills).

In particular I'm a great believer that practice makes perfect when it comes to establishing and improving presentation and oral communications skills. That's also why I'm a big fan of Toastmasters International, a membership oriented organization built around regular meetings where people learn about public speaking and presentation skills, both by observing polished professionals, and by getting up and speaking themselves. Though it's not explicitly mentioned in the CompTIA post, it's very much the case that the best way to overcome the fear of public speaking is to get enough public speaking experience to get past that fear—or at least, to make it tolerable and familiar.

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