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April Meeting: How to Speak with Impact

Denise Harrington of Harrington & Associates demonstrated extraordinary warmth and vigor as the guest speaker at our April chapter meeting. Someone who teaches people how to speak in front of groups is under considerable pressure to be vibrant, entertaining, and effective. Harrington was. She used poise, organizational skills, and charisma to teach us skills and tools to use while speaking to groups and to individuals in the media. 

Harrington developed her specialty working for Decker Communications in the San Francisco Bay Area. She began her own business more than seven years ago. She built her business by speaking to groups such as ours, and continues to do so. Nike was a key early client. Harrington has helped Lee Weinstein, our February guest speaker, prepare Nike executives to interview with Leslie Stahl for “60 Minutes.” Other clients have included Tiger Woods and Picabo Street. 

Harrington calls her program, “Speaking with Impact.” Her specialized area of communication focuses on verbal selling. “Selling,” she said, “is really the interaction between people.” It includes persuading, marketing, and even interpersonal office conversations. She added, “We buy on emotion.” 

Public Speaking

Harrington highlighted many of the strategies that are commonly taught in college speech classes, and offered up-to-date reasons for the need to join your audience. An example she demonstrated with a videotape of an effective political speech is to leave the podium. She recommends using a lavaliere microphone to free your hands and allow mobility. Interactive communication means involving the audience in the presentation. “The listener is critical to your presentations,” she asserted. You must meet their needs. 

The key to hiding your nervousness is to use open body language. Harrington used a variety of gestures as she moved around the room, and changed her voice projection and inflection to fit the roles. As unstated examples, she slowed her speech and spoke with authority in the trainer role, and spoke softly and used informal language in the one-of-us role. When speaking, pay attention to your movement, gestures, and facial expressions (smiling helps you gain the favor or support of your audience). 

The key to overcoming your nervousness is channeling your adrenaline. You know your topic, Harrington said, and that should provide your base of confidence. 

Being Interviewed by the Media

Harrington believes, “The media is your friend…it gives you a chance to tell your story. The media is the most powerful way to send messages.” You, or the interviewee, must prepare in advance. Her clients from the world of competitive athletics readily understand the need for coaching and practice. 

A confrontational interviewer, such as one from “60 Minutes” will employ strategies to fluster you. Harrington advises you to avoid letting your interrogator disturb you physically. Your body language and your tone of voice can work against you if that happens. While the person asking the questions may be likely to control the interview, you should stay committed to your subject. She said to ask yourself, “How can the reporter tell my story best?”

Harrington presented a matrix for answers to questions. Start by giving your point-of-view, which can be a feeling, an opinion, or an anecdote (she recommends using personal stories in your public presentations as well). Then give one detail per answer. The detail could also be an illustrative personal story, or a fact or a quote. More than one detail is not likely to be communicated fully. Conclude by restating your point-of-view. You have 8.9 seconds to make your point, she said. 

Oral Communications

As professionals in the field, many of us are invigorated and impressed by outstanding oral and written communications. The 22 people who came to our meeting were privileged to experience such a practical example. 

Denise Harrington established that she can help you or the executives in your organization improve public speaking skills and use media interviews to benefit the organization. She can be reached at (800) 784-3772 or ********** 


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