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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Speaking Easy

The ability to communicate effectively is a key asset in both business and personal life. Whether it's interviewing potential recruits, connecting with new people, or deciding between new business pitches, who wouldn't prefer an interesting speaker with a clear message?

So it's good to see that one of Scotland's leading communications skills training companies has put up free communications training resources on a new blog

They include videos showing VoiceBusiness walks the talk - see for a quick pre-speech exercise featuring their director, Dilly.

I've known Dilly over the years and have seen her in action several times: impressive and always generous with her tips. More importantly, I've seen the results of her training. Her company produces a step change in speakers' abilities.

Speaking is so important, yet we rarely think about it until shortly before we have to make a speech. We often haven't put the groundwork in to learn speaking skills, nor have not prepared or practiced enough. And deep down, we know it. It's not surprising that our speaking experiences are often laced with nerves or downright panic.

I'll never forget pitching to produce a new magazine. I'd done an OK job, but I wasn't a totally confident presenter. I got a phone call afterwards saying our proposals were much better on paper and we had a better team, but another company had done a much better presentation on the day. They got the work, despite it being a writing job with no presentation skills involved. When I pointed this out there was a total silence as the caller realised just how stupid their decision had been.

But I learned an important lesson that day. With a background in editing and writing, I needed to develop broader presentation skills. I joined the Edinburgh branch of Toastmasters International (TMI) and I achieved visible improvement in presentations within 6 months. Since then I have seen an increase in winning new business pitches.

It's certainly benefited my PR career. We have less than 30 seconds on the telephone to interest an editor in a client's story, so concise speaking is essential. And running a business, I have to be able to connect with new people effectively. I only have a few seconds to create a favourable first impression, and I need to think on my feet effectively. Toastmasters teaches you how to run your brain ahead of your mouth!

Plus the explosion of video online (UK online video viewing time is rapidly approaching TV viewing time) means that every business spokesperson needs clever presentation skills to take advantage of this most powerful medium.

It's never too late to do something about it.

We can take a leaf out of our US cousin's book for a start. We tend to think of Americans as being more outgoing communicators than us Brits. But they don't spring from the womb with fully-fledged speaking skills. They work at it. In schools - as many now do here. And they continue to practice impromptu and prepared speaking big-time at Toastmasters International (TMI) clubs.

TMI is a not-for-profit organisation with a proven track record of training more than 4 million people in public speaking and leadership skills world-wide. They offer a range of public speaking and leadership qualifications that are recognised world-wide.

Just how much more effort US citizens put into developing speaking skills is clear when you contrast the number of TMI clubs here and there.

A friend (and TMI member) moved from Edinburgh to Portland, Oregon. She reported that the population is roughly the same as Edinburgh. Yet they have 125 Toastmasters clubs in Portland. Until recently Edinburgh only had one TMI club called Capital Communicators which meets in the New Town. That grew too big and we now have two clubs with the recent launch of Waverley Communicators in the Old Town.

Why not find a Toastmasters International club to give you a speaking practice arena with constructive feedback? also has a good range of free speakers' training resources.

The TMI site has a world-wide club finder. The last time I used it, disconcertingly, all UK results show a map centred on the UK TMI HQ in Norfolk, but scroll past that and you'll get a list of clubs in your area. Edinburgh's Waverly Communicators isn't on that list yet as we need a couple more members to reach official TMI chartered club status, but I'm happy to provide you with info. As a not-for-profit, TMI club membership fees are very low - related mainly to meeting costs - so they vary from club to club. The clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow are around £100 a year for fortnightly training and practice lasting 2 hours.

You can start boosting your speaking skills today by visiting and re-visiting every month or so to to tap into their free resources.

And if you need to improve your speaking skills in a hurry, or your business depends on your presentation and speaking skills, why not invest in a VoiceBusiness course to produce overnight results?

PHPR has no commercial arrangement with either VoiceBusiness or TMI.

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posted by Penny Haywood Calder at


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