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Lights. Camera. Action. How to speak in public like a pro

Toastmasters [1]We’re tied to our electronic devices. Writing? Blogging? Emailing? Texting? No problem. But when it comes to oral communications, many of us fall short. We pepper our conversations with “uhs,” “you-knows” and other annoying sounds and filler words. Poor body language, vocal variety and tone distract from our message. We ramble and bury (or omit) the important points we want to make. And we wonder why people don’t “hear” what we’re saying. These shortfalls are magnified when we speak in front of an audience, whether it’s a small group of peers or [yikes] hundreds.

Unless we’re lucky enough to be on the speaker circuit or are a company spokesperson, we usually don’t get many opportunities to practice our public speaking. So how do we become confident and proficient at this vital, yet often-underdeveloped skill? Here’s an idea: join Toastmasters. It’s an international organization with “self-help” groups all over and a curriculum based on years of refining what it takes to be a good speaker (Toastmasters was founded in 1924).

Simply Google “Toastmasters” and you’re sure to find a group near your workplace or home. Most groups meet weekly, so you get frequent opportunities to public-speak, whether that means via prepared, formal or short impromptu speeches. Another bonus: Because members play different roles during meetings, such as “Ah” Counter, Grammarian, Speech Evaluator, Topic Master and Toastmaster, the organization gives you valuable speaking and leadership training that carries over to the workplace.

From my two years in Toastmasters (I wish I had joined years ago), I can attest to its effectiveness. Here are a few nuggets I’d like to share with you:

Keep these tips in mind when you participate in meetings, rub elbows at networking events [2] and make small-talk at cocktail parties. Every social or professional encounter can be an opportunity to practice. There are many more tips to becoming a successful public speaker, but nothing replaces just getting out there and doing it. And Toastmasters is a low-cost, nurturing and effective venue. You can find out more about Toastmasters at www.toastmasters.org [3].

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