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Practice, passion make speaking before groups easier

The Baltimore Sun

Italk to people for a living, but ask me to speak in front of a group and, well, you know. Sweaty palms. Nervous laugh.

Many people dread public speaking and assume either you have the skills or not.

That's a misconception, says Annapolis resident Timothy J. Koegel, who heads a presentation and media consulting firm in Washington.

Based on his work with clients, Koegel recently wrote The Exceptional Presenter, which provides techniques to improve communication skills at all levels, either one-on-one or in large groups. If anything, Koegel wants to get this message across in his book: "Anytime we open our mouths to speak, we're a public speaker."

Effective speaking skills can establish a career and help elevate it. Time and again, surveys have indicated that recruiters rank communication skills as the No. 1 quality they look for in potential employees.

Koegel has identified six characteristics that "exceptional presenters" share in an easy-to-remember acronym: OPEN UP!

Here are quick summaries:

Organized: There are two aspects to this concept. First, structure and frame your message. Secondly, look organized.

Passionate: Passion comes across in a presentation through body language, gestures and voice command, Koegel says.

"It's crisp and specific movements," he says. "Be more direct. If you're going to move, stop and square to the audience and look them in the eyes."

Engaging: Koegel says our attention spans are short. He notes studies that found the average adult's undivided attention is 15 to 30 seconds.

Instead of maintaining the audience's attention, Koegel says the speaker must keep drawing them back in by making eye contact and using stories and examples, among other techniques.

Natural: Be conversational instead of being scripted. That doesn't mean you give a presentation off the cuff, Koegel says. In fact, rehearse enough times and your speech can flow more smoothly, he says.

Understanding your audience: Find out about the audience's interests and what you're expected to deliver in the presentation or talk.

Practice: Pretty self-explanatory.

"Those who practice improve, those who don't - don't. It's that simple," Koegel says.

From the mailbag: In response to a survey of lateness-excuses mentioned in a recent column, several readers wrote in with their own excuses. Decide for yourself whether you believe them.

Lillian, of Baltimore, swears this is true: "I was late because a hot dog wagon overturned on my entrance ramp; there were squished wieners everywhere. They're very slippery."

Kevin, a reader from Perry Hall, blamed a vision problem. "I just couldn't see coming in today," he wrote.

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On the Job is published Monday at

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