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From my experience I can see that Project Manager/Team Leader is often responsible for many tasks not directly connected with his day to day job. For example he often takes part in sales meetings. On the other hand he has to persuade his team or his supervisors to some decisions and ideas. In many different situations he is speaking in front of the audience, which can be small but can contain decisive people from higher job positions than his own.

Should a project manager spend some time sharpening his public speaking skills? What is the best way to do it?

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    PMs who can explain an idea well are fantastic. PMs who can listen to other people's ideas are even better though. – Lunivore May 28 '12 at 8:22
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I think it is necessary. As a team leader you have to speak in front of your team, at meetings, at special occasions, like customer visitation or open house and the list goes on. It really makes a bad impression when a team leader cannot speak for 5 minutes. It shouldn't be a commencement speech, but I think a good team leader must be able to give at least an entertaining lighting talk (5-10 minutes).

I recommend the following books:

Some blogs:

Finally, practice a lot by watching and doing. For example, if you have a meetup somewhere in your neighborhood, go there and give a short talk, or give a talk at workplace about the topic your are the most interested in. The university is also a great place to give talks.

Start with something short, and select a topic which you know the most, because while giving a talk there are two challenges: the content and the performance. If you have no problem with the content, you can pay more attention to the performance. After you learnt everything about how to give a great talk, you can try to talk about stuff you don't know that much.

  • Please also consider joining a local Toastmasters club (via toastmasters.org). They are many of them and they focus both on communication & leadership for a reason. – Lech Ambrzykowski May 28 '12 at 20:40
  • This was the club I was looking for while writing my answer, but I didn't manage to find it. Thanks for adding! – Zsolt May 28 '12 at 21:04
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I'll take the opposite position than Zsolt and say no, a PM does not need to be a public speaker.

While I agree with his premise, my view is that the PM needs to be a 'leader' more than a speaker. So the PM needs to spend their time honing their leadership and influence skills.

Public speaking is sometimes a part of this, but I've known some great leaders that weren't very good speakers. The key was that in small groups and one on one you 'wanted' to follow them. And for the most part, your team interaction will be far more often in these settings than in a public speaking situation.

  • I like the "wanted to follow them" idea. – Zsolt May 24 '12 at 22:09
  • It's all about how you influence them. :) Influence doesn't always have to be authoritarian. – Trevor K. Nelson May 24 '12 at 23:33
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It's good to differentiate between charisma and communications.

To be effective, a PM must be an effective communicator. I have never seen a good one that isn't.

Most of the good PMs I've seen have been excellent written communicators. I can think of one or two exceptions, but managing projects usually involves a large paper trail of commitments. Not all the good PMs I've seen have been great speakers. Most communicate effectively verbally in small groups, but being a dynamic public speaker isn't a requirement of being a good PM.

But to answer your direct question - it's one useful skill of many. If you have time, it can't hurt. Warren Buffett recommended the Dale Carnegie series of classes. I've seen a lot of people swear by Toastmasters. In both cases, it's about focused practice. Public speaking is a learnable skill.

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There are a whole host of skills needed for a role of PM. How each of these skills presents in an individual varies, with no evidence that there exists some single blueprint. Further, each project is unique, deployed under unique environmental circumstances. One project may require significant public interaction while the same project done at another time and location may require little. Therefore, whether this skill is advantageous or not simply depends on need.

None of us can claim we are experts at all of the skills desired for this role, yet we have advanced in our careers despite this. How is that? Many skills, despite our best efforts, simply will not grow much. In fact, many suggest to ignore your weak skills and focus on your strengths, making those even stronger. We get by because we learn to cope with our weaknesses, finding work arounds, buying the skills we don't possess.

Success of a project manager is never contingent on a single skill.

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Based on my experience, public speaking skill can be extremely useful to successful project management but I don't think it should be considered a blanket statement for all PMs.

When you take classes or read books about public speaking, there are a lot things that you can learn that are useful for other venues, too. You get advice about preparation, creating a clear message, improving your visual aid, and other communications tools and that kind of learning can be useful in other communications channels. Creating a good collection of charts and graphs with a clear message, for example, will help in a status report just as much as a presentation in front of a large audience.

  • Should a project manager spend some time sharpening his public speaking skills? Yes, I think it is worthwhile expenditure of time and effort. Normally has good return value.
  • What is the best way to do it? I have had good success with university/college level evening classes. They tend to be small group lessons with good quality instructors at reasonable prices.

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