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Many people fear public speaking, but it is a fear that everyone from architects to zoo employees needs to conquer to be effective on the job -- and maybe even to get ahead.
It's not enough to be proficient at your work -- you have to be able to communicate about it, too, said Carol Fleming, a communication coach and author of "It's the Way You Say It: Becoming Articulate, Well-spoken and Clear."
"Public speaking is the bridge that carries the effectiveness and knowledge from one person to another," she said, adding that it's curious why it isn't at the top of the list of skills any professional would develop.
Public speaking "is where you sell all of your work," said Fleming, founder of The Sound of Your Voice, a San Francisco consultancy specializing in personal communication training (www.speechtraining.com).
"Public speaking can be a joy and is a highway to advancement, but we don't have many opportunities to do this anymore," she said.
The family dinner table -- when families actually sit down and have dinner together -- is the earliest opportunity for children to learn social and conversation skills.
Most schools and universities offer classes in public speaking, but one semester spent making speeches doesn't make you an effective communicator any more than one semester of French qualifies you to become a United Nations interpreter.
For people who are looking to hone their speaking skills, Fleming recommended seeking out "things that get you standing up and talking to groups."
That can range from places of worship to social clubs to a local chapter of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit that teaches public speaking and leadership skills (www.toastmasters.org).
Those experiences give you a chance to learn the basic skills of public speaking without worrying about making a fool of yourself in situations that really count, Fleming said.
It's a case where practice does make perfect.
For those looking to improve their speeches, Fleming suggested they get clear about their core message by creating a single statement that summarizes the message: "What do you want your audience to say about what you said?"
What about those people who sweat at the very thought of talking to a group of people?
"The reason you have stage fright is because you're egocentric" and worried about yourself, Fleming said.
She suggested speakers "make friends with the audience" and ask what you can do for them and what do they need and want to know, she suggested.
Once thing she is sure an audience doesn't want is for a speaker to stand in front of them, look down and read from a published work.
"The written word is different than the spoken word," she said.
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