Practice makes perfect Featured

8:39am EDT March 31, 2003
Venetia Elsmore nervously stood in front of her co-workers at Charles Schwab & Co.. Her 10-minute presentation on sleep deprivation was a little off the beaten path for the retirement plan provider. Her hands were jittery as she turned the pages on the easel but no one seemed to notice, and in the end she received a round of applause.

Neither Elsmore’s formal education or extensive corporate training prepared her for this type of speech, but joining Toastmasters' club -- Speak Easy did.

At Toastmasters employees practice speech giving in order to improve their communication abilities. "Each member gets the opportunity to improve their skills," says Eric Johnson, Schwab's senior relationship manager and Speak Easy's president. "The other benefit is we're building partnerships across our entire organization."

In addition, members learn to be better listeners. "If you want to be a good speaker, you have to learn how to listen critically," says Jeanine Murray-Wilson, Toastmasters' District 10 public relations officer and Speak Easy's mentor.

Murray-Wilson says a good presentation starts by preparing a good speech. A good speech should have a beginning, middle and end, the rule of thumb is don't forget to the basics.

In addition she stresses to make sure the subject is interesting to the audience by effectively capturing the audience with right off the bat with an opening hook – a joke or anecdote. And Murray-Wilson urges any speaker, regardless of the technicality of the subject to stay away from jargon, use words economically and keep sentences short.

She also suggests that in order to look comfortable, practice the speech with a microphone in front of a mirror and choreograph your gestures. It also helps to use note cards rather than a fully written speech and mark parts of the speech than can be eliminated if time runs out.

How to reach: Toastmasters International, (800) 9WE-SPEAK or www.toastmasters.org