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Public Speaking Shakes Most Marketers

by Paul Barsch  |  
June 30, 2006

You would think marketing professionals, of all people, would be good public speakers. The bad news is: they're not....

Even though most Americans fear rattlesnakes and death more than public speaking, you would think marketing professionals would be immune to the shakes, sweats and inopportune stomach-gurgling that accompanies public speaking. After all, we're supposed to be the gregarious, flamboyant, and creative types right? Shouldn't we be able to get up and "take over" a room with a brilliant presentation?

About a year ago, 15 of my fellow marketing professionals at a global consulting firm and I were invited to a communications workshop at corporate headquarters.

Most of us assumed we'd be learning about gender differences in communication, complete a few personality tests, and then fly back to our home offices. However, we were all surprised (and some horrified), to discover this "communication workshop," was actually a 1.5-day course on public speaking and presentation skills.

We were instructed for four hours on effective speaking and communication skills, and then asked to present twice over the two days, in front of our peers and gulp– a video camera.

Round one wasn't pretty. A few of my colleagues turned beet-red, scratched their necks into a rosy hue, stuck their hands in their pockets, and lost track of their notes through the ad-hoc presentations we were instructed to give. One friend of mine insisted on sitting on a chair in the front of the room, instead of standing, because he said that's how he gives most of his presentations. Needless to say, that approach was awkward.

The next day, round two was better, presumably since we all had a night of dinner and drinking to recover from round one.

In the beginning of the session, I was convinced that I would likely be one of the worst presenters. I was in a room of high-powered marketing professionals, at a global consulting giant, where some people had graduate degrees from the finest universities in the nation. Surely everyone would be polished and outstanding speakers.

At the end of the session, I was amazed how few marketers could stand up, with very little notice and deliver an effective "impromptu" presentation without having a complete meltdown–something akin to what I sometimes see from my five-year-old.

Now you say, 15 marketing people is entirely too small of a sample size to postulate that most marketers are terrible public speakers. I wish I could say otherwise, but observations through my marketing career have proven time and again that good public speaking skills are not a given for marketing professionals.

Like most skills in life, practice makes perfect. If your public speaking skills are rusty, chances are that your next impromptu corporate presentation will be rusty. If your last presentation was two years ago, your next presentation (no matter how much you practice in front of the mirror) will be rusty. If you are a terrible public speaker, and know it, then why not do something about it?

There are more than a few avenues to improve your public speaking skills. Many community colleges offer weekend public speaking workshops, or the ability to enroll in Speech 101, 201 or similar course for an entire semester of critical instructor and peer feedback.

There are also public speaking groups like Toastmasters or other social networking groups where a marketer can practice different types of presentations and get critical feedback on a speech including content, flow, body language, hand gestures, and overall effectiveness of the message

Presenting an aire of confidence, and delivering the best presentation you possibly can, is quite honestly the expectation of our customers, suppliers and CEO's. Whether you are an entrepreneur or a corporate marketer, better public speaking is a skill that can take you places you've never dreamed of professionally.

The next time that "impromptu speech" to a customer, Vice President or CEO, comes up (and it will), with practice you'll be ready to knock it out of the park.

So fellow marketers, go forth, speak, and do the rest of us proud.

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Paul Barsch directs services marketing programs for Teradata, the world's largest data warehousing and analytics company. Previously, Paul was marketing director for HP Enterprise Services $1.3 billion healthcare industry and a senior marketing manager at global consultancy, BearingPoint. Paul is a senior contributor to MarketingProfs, a frequent columnist for MarketingProfs DailyFix, and has published over fifteen articles in marketing, management, technology and healthcare publications. Paul earned his Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He and his family reside in San Diego, CA.

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  • by Lauren Vargas Fri Jun 30, 2006 via blog

    Encourage all to visit Presentation Zen for marketing presentation 101:

  • by Ann Handley Fri Jun 30, 2006 via blog

    Thanks for pointing to Garr's blog, Lauren. I hadn't heard of it, but I just spent a while there, and look forward to digging in a little deeper. I encourage all of you to do the same. Garr has some great videos of public speakers (Seth, Guy, Tom, Al Gore...!) and commentary on their styles, and offers up interesting perspective on presentation writing, speaking and general design as well. Good stuff!

  • by Lewis Green Sat Jul 1, 2006 via blog

    Although I agree with Paul's major points--and he offers more than a few good ones--I tremble at the thought that those marketers who fear public speaking to the point of creating a minor tremor under their feet can overcome that fear with practice. Some may; most won't. The fear of public speaking isn't rooted in the intellect but can be found in the psyche and within our emotional centers. You can be a fearless executive in your comfortable business setting but put you on a stage where the power shifts to the audience, and fearless turns to fear. Beyond therapy and good chemicals, I doubt much can be done to alter your state of mind. How can I be so sure? Think about it. Practice usually means getting the words right and perhaps throwing in a few hand gestures, some voice modulation and perhaps a PowerPoint extravaganza. All okay but not the keys to your presentation. I have more than a little experience in this area. As a former corporate executive speechwriter, I sat through more painful presentations of my words than anyone should have to. Yes, they said the words right, but the passion within those words was nowhere to be found. Words, mechanics and technology are but a small part of your presentation; the remaining parts exist within the act of presenting. Your passion, your animation, your resonance with the audience and your ability to persuade and convince based on the perception you create with that audience. At that moment, you and only you are the Brand. That can be scary stuff. And only those with the heart and emotional makeup to move an audience succeed at the highest levels. So if you have what it takes, build that Brand. If not, send out others who have presence, as a former professor of mind said. In his words: "I may not be able to define it but I know it when I see it." And so do audiences.

  • by Michael Wagner Sun Jul 2, 2006 via blog

    I second Lauren's recommendation of Garr's blog. My first major corporation presentation followed at painful two hour slide show where the presenter read every slide to the those gathered. I was shocked to later discover this was standard for many business world presentations. I had always been taught that it was a sin to be boring in public. And I had not seen that much "sinning" in a long time.

  • by Paul Barsch Mon Jul 3, 2006 via blog

    Good comments on the sins of public speaking, but I tend to think the worst sin of all is thinking you are good public speaker when you're not. I've run into countless executives who don't feel they need to improve their public speaking skills, when in reality they are terrible. Self assessment, acceptance of critical feedback from peers and superiors and a willingness to continually improve are a few of the key ingredients for public speaking success.

  • by William Arruda Mon Jul 10, 2006 via blog

    I think what compounds the problem for marketers is that the bar is higher. When someone from finance gets up to deliver a talk, people in the audience are not expecting 'wow' but when a marketer takes the stage, the expectations are higher. Pulic speaking is like a lot of skills, the more you do it, the better you get at it. So, marketers - take every opportunity to speak. And speak in your voice, their is nothing more challenging than being inauthentic. Public speaking is a critical skill for all professionals - especially marketers - and doing it well is essential to building a strong personal brand.

  • by Dustin Garr Fri Jul 20, 2007 via blog

    I agree with the fact that it is hard to stand up in front of most people for the first time. It's like anything once you learn how to do things the right way and then practice them over and over you get better at it. I have worked with a company here in Detroit for years training people how to effectively speak with others. There are numerous programs out there that offer suggestions and helps. Thanks!

  • by public speaking myths Wed Nov 4, 2009 via blog

    When someone delivers a speech into public be sure to listen carefully especially the audience so that the speaker know he/she had a good conversation with the audience.

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