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7 Learn from the Best Books, Movies, and Courses

After winning the World Championship of Public Speaking in 1999 in Chicago, I came back to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and the first thing I did was to get another book on the art of public speaking.

—Craig Valentine

Learning effective presentation skills is a lifelong process. In a very real sense, reading this resource is only the beginning of that process. To answer the question, "Where do I go from here," we have listed several suggestions on how to find the best information possible.

Learning From Books and Films: A bibliography of more than 50 of the best books, and audio and videotapes on presentations skills can be found in Appendix B. Each reference is described in enough detail to help you make an informed choice about whether it would be helpful to you in further developing your skills.

Learning From Courses and Speaking Organizations: Excellent courses of study, some programmed and some self-directed, are available through a number of organizations. We list some of them here:

Toastmasters International is the world's largest organization to help develop speaking, listening, and leadership skills. At Toastmasters, members learn by speaking to groups and working with others in a supportive, encouraging environment. A typical Toastmasters club is made up of 20 to 40 people who meet once a week for one to two hours. Each meeting gives participants an opportunity to practice conducting meetings, giving impromptu speeches, presenting prepared speeches, and offering constructive evaluation.

There are many advantages to Toastmasters. First, they have been in the business of helping individuals present more effectively since 1924. Second, you can start at a level with which you feel comfortable and gradually and systematically move up to more complex presentations. Third, there is ample opportunity to practice, as most clubs meet two to four times a month. If you miss a meeting, you can attend a meeting on a different night or at another club in your area, or you can visit a club at another location if you are traveling. With more than 8,000 clubs internationally, finding a club is a relatively simple task.

At the National Speakers Association (NSA) Annual Meeting, you can see presentations by some of the best presenters in the business. Breakout and workshop sessions are designed to help you accelerate your skills. You can also attend the "Meet the Pros"' session, which is made up 10 individuals who get to sit down with a professional speaker for 20 minutes to discuss a specific topic on speaking. You can meet with three different pros and learn about three different areas of interest. It is amazing how much material can be covered in such a short period of time. Because the group is small and intimate, you can also get burning questions answered and make contact with an expert with whom you can talk to or correspond in the future. The array of topics presented is impressive. David has been attending NSA meetings since 1991 and Brad since 1997. We both agree that one of the biggest mistakes we made in our careers was not joining sooner.

The NSA Youth Leadership Conference is the best-kept secret at NSA. The program is open to children ages 10 to 16, and because it is set up as a parallel conference and run at the same times as the adult sessions, the children are completely looked after and their parents can take full advantage of the adult conference.

Brad: My children and I first attended together in 2000 in Washington, D.C. I thought the Youth Leadership Conference would be a good experience for them, to help them learn about the speaking profession, to be exposed to some of the best speakers in the world, and for us to have a first-class holiday all at the same time. When I explained what would likely happen at NSA, they said that it sounded too much like summer school, were afraid that we would spend too much time in Washington's museums—and therefore would prefer not to go. The end result, however, was that NSA was the highlight of our summer.

After a morning of sightseeing on the first day of the conference, my children and I attended the orientation session. The speaker for the opening session was the one and only Zig Ziglar. After the session was over, the parents were asked to leave, were told to relax for the rest of the afternoon, attend the opening session, and pick the kids up at 10 p.m. The children heard some of the best presenters in the world, including a visit from Abraham Lincoln, a.k.a. Gene Griessman. The youth counselors and the people who directed the program were, in my children' words, "awesome." Their goal was to have a better conference than the adults, and clearly in my children's eyes, they did. In fact, these same children who originally did not want to go to NSA in Washington had such a good time that they couldn't wait to go to the next NSA Youth Leadership Program.

There are many good reasons for people who want to improve their presentation skills to attend NSA. If you have children, you now have another reason to go, because it is never too early to start learning.

The National Speakers Association of Australia was established in 1987 and its foundation and evolution has been modeled on its U.S. counterpart. The National Speakers Association of New Zealand was formed in 1994. These organizations exist to develop, promote, and uphold the highest possible standards of the profession for the benefit of their members and the public they serve. Any person who has an interest in the speaking industry is eligible to apply for membership.

The Professional Speakers Association (PSA) is a an organization for professional speakers in Europe. PSA supports its members in developing their presentation skills, to share best practices, and to increase the awareness of the importance of professional speaking. There are currently seven chapters in England and one each in Scotland, Ireland, and Paris/Brussels.

The Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) is Canada's professional association for speakers, trainers, and facilitators. Just like NSA, CAPS has annual meetings where you can see and learn from the best speakers in Canada. CAPS currently has 11 chapters across Canada. Chapter locations and meeting times can be found on the CAPS Website. Just like the other national associations, CAPS offers tremendous value to it members.

Lastly, most colleges, universities, and local and national training organizations offer courses in presentation skills. Nationally, Dale Carnegie offers a presentations course as does the Christopher Leadership Course As the quality of these courses is directly proportional to the abilities of the person teaching the course, use your research skills to find the right course and the right level of training to best meet your specific needs. Warning! Don't judge a course by its brochure. Use your research and networking skills to find the ones that offer the most value for your needs.

We all know from elementary school arithmetic that 3 + 3 = 6. We also know that 3 3 = 9. Synergy is powerful. Synergy is based on the effects of combining some work in all of the areas listed above. Combining experience, mentoring, coaching, books, and courses results in compounded learning.

At this point it would be easy to congratulate yourself for having read this resource and then put the book down. However, that would be a grave mistake. For Master_Presenters and would-be Master_Presenters, now is the time to take constructive action, and the action plan that follows is designed to help you do just that.

Helen Keller said that "life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing." In your presentation adventures, we wish you Godspeed.

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