How to build your professional speaking skills

Jul 15, 2014 | STANDING OUT

I have lost count of how many times I have been told about accountants who fail to make the most of speaking opportunities. Often they have fluffed their spot at a structured networking event (eg: BNI or 4N). Other times they have failed to engage their audience – whether speaking at their own seminar or when making a short presentation somewhere else.

There are two separate issues here. The first is having the confidence and ability to stand up and communicate effectively with an audience. The second is developing and presenting a powerful talk that is both memorable and special.

If you either lack the confidence to stand up and speak in public, or you have never had any feedback on your speaking skills, I recommend you join a local speaking club. There are plenty all around the UK – and most are ideal for novices and for those who want to improve.

At various stages I have belonged to Toastmasters International (TI) which is nothing to do with red-jacketed masters of ceremony often seen at formal functions. Over 14,000 international speaking clubs are affiliated to TI. Almost 180 of these are in the UK (of which 50 are in and around London) and they all operate in much the same way. 

Members develop their skills initially by working through the Competent Communication manual, a series of 10 self-paced speaking assignments designed to instill a basic foundation in public speaking.

Everyone who joins Toastmasters works through the manual to achieve the status of ‘Competent Communicator’. Thereafter you have a choice of other programmes to further develop speaking skills in different directions.

Another organisation is The Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) which was formed in 1972 and now has some 110 Clubs throughout the UK with about 1600 members.

I should also mention the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) although its objective is quite distinct from that of local speakers’ clubs. The PSA is a much smaller and UK-centric professional body. It is part of the Global Speakers Federation, a group of speaking organisations from around the world.

Launched in 1999, the organisation is for anyone involved in the world of speaking professionally. That would include accountants who intend to use public speaking as a route to building their practice. The motto of the PSA is ‘Speak more…..Speak Better’.  I was thrilled to be elected a Fellow of the PSA in 2013 – this is the highest level of membership and evidences a high level of professional experience and ability.

Some accountants will recognise the networking opportunities that may also present themselves at speakers’ clubs.  I would stress, as always, that you should first aim to get to know the people you meet. Use the speaking opportunities to practice talks you might give to promote your practice.  But do not attend meetings with the aim of coming away with new clients. In time you may well find some fellow members need your help or know people who need a new accountant. But if anyone senses that your primary objective is to win new clients you will find it more difficult!

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