Want to Give Good Speeches? Practice Is Key Adults Often Find They Must Give Presentations at Work or at Church. A Class Can Help Polish Skills

Article excerpt

Kirk Kirkpatrick dramatically recites lines from a Walter Wintle poem as he hands out copies of it to students in his public-speaking class.

The poem's message about overcoming defeat seems almost secondary to the way he delivers it. "Emotion is important to your speaking," he tells them. "It'll get your audience to listen to you - and if they don't listen to you, it won't matter what you've got to say."

Learning to get their message across is the reason these 19 men and women are spending their Monday evenings in a classroom on the campus of Emory University in Decatur, Ga. Some have real-world presentations scheduled in the weeks ahead, most have had to speak before groups in the past, a few have never dared to utter word one before an audience. But to varying degrees, all share the same desire: to tame the impulse to run whenever the opportunity to speak publicly arises. They also share with a growing number of Americans the realization that effective communication has become a requisite in today's world. Few are the jobs or community activities that never require speaking up at meetings, making a presentation, running a training session, or participating in a negotiation. As Emma Murad, who is deciding between pursuing graduate studies and taking a sales job, puts it, "Whatever I do, the things I learn in this class will help me." In the US alone, more than 50,000 men and women signed up for the 12-week Dale Carnegie public-speaking course last year. 130,000 people have joined Toastmasters International clubs, and countless others attend evening classes in public speaking. And they are not all fast-track corporate executives. The students in Mr. Kirkpatrick's course range from recent college graduates to the almost-retired. Adrian Douglass is a successful doctor who does not need public-speaking skills in his profession, but "I'm becoming more active in my church," he says. He still cringes remembering a Christmas meeting when he stood up before the congregation and froze. A graduate of an earlier class, Myrtle Miller, reports that her evaluations as a teacher of nursing at Dekalb College in Clarkston, Ga., "skyrocketed" after taking the course. "I have added humor, the kids like the way I express my beliefs - I couldn't have done that before." There are, of course, limits to what a six-week class can teach, and not all classes are identical. Each professional has a pet organizational technique. Kirkpatrick favors "the key-word outline," whereby each letter of a word represents a point in the speech. …