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Public Speaking is not just in public

Posted by Devin Cole  September 13, 2011 12:50 PM

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When you envision speaking in public, what do you see? Usually, we think about standing on a stage and addressing a large audience. This is certainly one example of public speaking. Yet the skills that help us speak well in front of 200+ people also help us in front of just one or two people.

Think about some of the best speakers you’ve ever seen. What made them great? Maybe it was their delivery: they made eye contact with you and used effective body language to support their point. Maybe it was their message: their ideas were passionate and crystal clear, so compelling that you wanted to join their team or buy their product.

The qualities of good speakers also make for great conversationalists. And in today’s job market, conversations can bring you more results than speeches.

Especially in Boston. Think about the kind of people Boston attracts: driven entrepreneurs, passionate students, and inspired professionals from every industry. I know many of them through Boston World Partnerships, which brings together Bostonians in all sectors to promote the city. Well-connected people are everywhere; there’s a good chance that the person who can get you to your next job is sitting next to you on the Red Line. Imagine if you could start a conversation with that person, exchange business cards, follow up by email, and have your resume passed directly to the hiring manager.

As a teacher of public speaking, I spend a lot of time helping people present their world-class ideas to investors, employees, or customers. When I help entrepreneurs with their pitches, I’m quick to tell them that they are always “on” - always pitching - because they never know when they’ll meet that VC whom everyone’s been chasing who just happens to be on the same train to New York.

Regardless of whether you are pitching an idea, you are always pitching yourself. Practice 3-4 sentences that explain who you are and what you’re working on in a way that captures someone’s attention and leads to follow-up questions. You’re not writing a dramatic monologue, you’re writing a conversation-starter. And then infuse it with the same passion and authenticity with which you talk about your hobbies or your family.

Entrepreneurs like Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot (Full disclosure: my husband works there) like to say that the best time to raise money is before you actually need it. Similarly, the best time to look for a job is when you don’t need one. You can start a relationship just for the fun of it and then call on it later in life.

So how do you improve your public speaking skills? There is no end to the resources you’ll find in Boston. Start with Toastmasters, an international public speaking and leadership organization where people come together to practice their skills in a safe, welcoming environment. A quick search on the Toastmasters website returns 24 clubs in the city of Boston alone. There are also classes at most colleges, universities, and adult education centers. And remember, public speaking is a skill more than a talent; it’s something that we can all improve with practice and time.

So in addition to improving your public speaking skills so that you can stand on stage and address 200 people, improve your public speaking skills so that you can speak well in front of that one really important person before he/she gets off the Red Line at Kendall Square.

Allison M. Shapira teaches public speaking in the Harvard Kennedy School’s Communication Program and to entrepreneurs, diplomats, politicians, and nonprofit leaders from around the world. She is a also a Boston World Partnerships Connector.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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