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4 ways to Immediately Improve Your Communication Skills (and your bottom line)

By Doug Farrick

As designers, we are always looking to improve our skills by taking online design tutorials, going to Photoshop classes, buying design books and magazines, going to seminars, and more.

But we don't often make time for improving one of the most important skills of all -- a skill crucial to career success. I'm talking about our communication skills.

As a design business owner, I found out in a hurry how important verbal communication skills are when I started giving client presentations and learned that mine were not as "professional" as some of the others they had seen. Ouch! Losing clients because of that really hurt.

But it gave me motivation to improve my communication skills. And after doing some investigating, I stumbled upon the Toastmasters Program. This nonprofit organization has nearly 226,000 members in 11,500 clubs in 92 countries. They offer a proven, affordable, structured, and fun way to practice and hone communication and leadership skills.

Most Toastmasters clubs have approximately 20 members who meet weekly for an hour or two. Participants learn and practice their skills by giving prepared and impromptu speeches, as well as by serving as timer, evaluator, or grammarian.

There is no instructor. Instead, the speeches and meetings are critiqued by members in a positive manner, focusing on what was done right and what could be improved.

If speaking in public scares you, you aren't alone, says Paul L. Witt, PhD, assistant professor of communication studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. "It is even scarier than rattlesnakes," Witt says. "The idea of making a presentation in public is the No. 1 fear reported by people in the U.S."

Here are 4 items that I found can help in improving your communications skills

1. Learn to Listen - I have found it very helpful to take the position of being the interviewer. Just let the other person talk. Learn to ask questions and just listen. Resist the temptation to talk about yourself. That can come later. It's not as easy as it appears. At your next networking event practice just asking questions without ever referring to you/your business.

2. Create Logic and Structure - The basic Toastmasters tenet is: tell them what your going to tell them, tell them and tell them what you've told them. Make sure your speech or presentation has a logic or structure to follow. It increase your chances tenfold that your speech or presentation will be easily followed and remembered.

3. Practice to Improve - This one came as a shock to me when first starting. I thought speakers had an outline and just "did" their speech. WAY wrong. The pros rehearse their speeches many, many times - getting their rhythm, cadence and pacing just right. Once I learned to practice, my speaking ability improved dramatically.

4. Solicit Feedback - Constructive criticism is necessary to monitor your improvement. For example, there are a number of feedback mechanisms in the TM program, like: a timer (it is very important to cover your key points in a specific time ) an ahhhh and ummm counter, which helps you be aware of verbal "stammers, " and, of course, feedback from audience members who can pick up on other nuances, like body language, voice projection and more.

Survey after survey shows that presentation skills are crucial to success in the workplace. Make it a goal to improve your communication skills in the next 6 months by signing up for Toastmasters or any number of other video, online, or seminar-based programs in public speaking and leadership skills.

Then watch your profits explode.

Note: to find out more about Toastmasters and to find a club in your area, go here: http://www.toastmasters.org/