Public speaking: A critical success skill that anyone can learn…and I do mean anyone

This week, Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino had another of those public speaking moments that have earned him the nickname Mumbles. At the unveiling of the Bobby Orr statue in front of the TD Garden, Menino said “ionic” when he meant “iconic.” Okay, a minor slip of the tongue…it happens to us all. But then, to everyone’s horror–and vast amusement–as he recounted great moments in Boston sports history, this guy who labels himself as a huge sports fan said, “Varitek splitting the uprights,” when, of course, it was Adam Vinitieri who split the uprights, not Jason Varitek, the Red Sox catcher. Gheesh, Mr. Mayor.

Menino’s propensity for mangling the English language on a regular basis certainly hasn’t hurt his political career in Boston; he is the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. But being referred to regularly as Mumbles Menino can’t be very pleasant, and it’s harder to get your message across when people are more focused on what your next gaffe is going to be than on your content.

This episode reminded me how happy I am that I took the Dale Carnegie public speaking course nearly 20 years ago. I was about to become president of a networking organization and wanted to be comfortable at the podium leading our monthly meetings. And Menino’s latest faux pas made me wonder why he has never sought similar help. Surely some of his problem is related to nerves that could be eliminated with good training. I don’t know if his political ambitions ever involved going higher up the ladder than Boston City Hall, but I am not the first to posit the theory that his lack of pubic speaking skills has limited his prospects of rising further.

Which brings me to the point of this post: Do you have a similar problem that might limit your business success? Being unable to make good presentations is a real handicap. It can prevent you from accepting leadership roles in organizations that would give you great visibility. It can stop you from using public speaking as a marketing tool. And it can also cause you many a sleepless night on those occasions when circumstances absolutely force you to speak in front of a group.

The good news here is that anyone can learn to speak confidently in public. While I had a fear of public speaking before taking the Dale Carnegie course, my fear paled in comparison to one woman who was in my course. On the first night, when we had to each give a very brief introduction of ourselves, I honestly thought she might faint! But guess what? Later on in the course, all of us were thrilled for her when she won one of the prizes that are given out for the best presentation of the evening! I won one of those prizes, too, and was very happy about it. What a confidence builder!

So if public speaking scares you to death or if your skills need polishing, do something about it! There are plenty of resources available to help you. Besides the Dale Carnegie course, which is now given in a two-day format rather than the 8-week evening course I took years ago, there is Toastmasters International. Yes, it will cost you some money and time, but the outcome will be worth it in terms of the skills and confidence you’ll gain. Now, if only I could convince Mumbles to sign up. 🙂

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