Tongue-tied? How to speak effectively at work


(MoneyWatch) In too many companies, talented individuals fly under the radar, working hard but unable to get to the next level. Sometimes, they get stuck because they aren't able to effectively communicate in a professional setting, either because of lack of experience, nerves or both.

Michael Notaro, formerly the president of Toastmasters International, a group that teaches public speaking and leadership skills, offers some important suggestions on people can sharpen their ability to speak in public settings.

MoneyWatch: Why do smart people sometimes sound less than intelligent when speaking at work?

Michael Notaro: The ability to speak on the spot -- something that occurs regularly in the work setting -- is a skill that many struggle with. Fortunately, impromptu speaking can be learned. One great resource that I recommend, of course, is participating in the Toastmasters program. Practicing speaking scenarios helps, since the more people do something, the better they become at it. Once individuals become more comfortable speaking off-the-cuff, they gain the confidence to speak with more authority.

How important is eye contact when trying to convey your ideas?

It's crucial. Effective communicators make eye contact and smile to convey friendliness and warmth.

What are some tips that can help shy people get the words out?

Come prepared. Know the material and have a genuine interest in sharing that interesting, well-organized information with your audience. Also, prepare some examples or a relatable story to share, which will help you illustrate an idea, especially if you're nervous.

That's a great point. Nerves can make even the most normal voice sound soft or shaky. Any tips for this?

The best way to improve voice quality is with projection. Then, use vocal variety -- avoid a monotone sound -- and use gestures to emphasize important points.

Any final tips for speaking with authority, whether it's to your boss or your whole team?

Speakers should concentrate on the message, and the information they want to share. Know that listeners really want you to succeed and are not waiting to pounce on the first slip-up. It's natural to display a little nervousness.

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