A May 2 article in The Wall Street Journal asked children how they pictured IT professionals. They responded with a none-too-flattering image of an uber-geek sporting a pocket protector, bow tie, and horn-rimmed glasses. But at TechRepublic, we know you’re more suave than that.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to polish your image inside and out. If you’ve been rambling and shuffling your way through speeches to the board and talks with your employees, it’s time to shape up. We’ve compiled a few tips from Toastmasters International , as well as a number of helpful articles, to improve your speaking skills in every situation.

Skeptical? Read what professionals have to say about it in “Communication and leadership: A two-way street,” one of CIO Republic’s most-read articles in 1999.

The basics
To begin improving your image, you’ll first need to evaluate your everyday speaking patterns. Do you:

  • Use words and phrases like “the bottom line” and “think outside the box” or refer to people as “resources?”
  • Call women “chicks,” “honey,” or other cutesy names?
  • Find you’re uttering a string of profanities that would make the father from the movie The Christmas Story blush?

If you answered “yes” or even smirked at one of those examples, read “What does the way you speak say about you?”

You’re now ready for Phase II, the public speech. In general, Toastmasters recommends that speakers:

  • Know the room. Be familiar with the place in which you will speak. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area, and practice using the microphone and any visual aids.
  • Know the audience. Greet some of the audience as they arrive. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to a group of strangers.
  • Know your material. If you’re not familiar with your material or are uncomfortable with it, your nervousness will increase. Practice your speech and revise it if necessary.
  • Relax. Ease tension by doing exercises: Stretching, brisk walking, deep breathing, and so on.
  • Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear, and assured. When you visualize yourself as successful, you will be successful.
  • Don’t apologize. If you mention your nervousness or apologize for any problems you think you have with your speech, you may be calling the audience’s attention to something they hadn’t noticed. Keep silent.

You’ll also want to peruse our article, “Present your good side during public speeches,” which includes tips on how to structure your presentation, deliver a spectacular speech, and recover from mistakes.

Be a media darling
You may be Mr. or Ms. Suave when it comes to public speaking, but don’t think that means you’re ready for a tough reporter. After all, your employees have to listen to you, and an audience chose to attend your speech, but journalists have no such obligation. And, like lawyers, they operate under an ethics system that can seem strange and, well, unethical to others.

TechProGuild editor Joan Harvey, a seasoned reporter and TV producer, shares the secrets of the trade in “Reporter relations.”

Are reporters already nipping at your heels because of a company crisis? Take a deep breath; despite what they say, they can wait a few minutes while you brush up on handling the press during emergencies with “Crisis Communications: It’s not an ordinary day.”

Once you’ve mastered media relations and public speaking, you’re ready to tackle studio interviews. Don’t be fooled; anchors work hard to make their job look easy. You can look professional and polished, too, if you follow the tips in “Studio savvy.”

Are you ready to communicate? Well, here’s just one more tip: Defy the stereotype by nixing the pocket protector and buying yourself some contact lenses.
Do you have a public relations/media policy at your company? How do you handle media calls? Post below or e-mail us your tips and policies for dealing with the press.