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TMC 2024


Professional Speech Coach Teaches Value of Public Speaking

Deborah Boswell Offers Ways to Connect With the Trucking Audience
Deborah Boswell
Public speaking expert Deborah Boswell talks to the audience during a technical session on effective business presentations March 6 at TMC 2024 in New Orleans. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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NEW ORLEANS — Deborah Boswell, a communication consultant and coach, told the story of how former Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled his then-newest creation, the iPod.

“The size of the first iPod was 5 gigs, but instead of saying that, Steve Jobs said that you will be able to hold 1,000 songs in this one device,” Boswell explained, setting up the point of the tale. “But the geek in him probably wanted to say, ‘5 gigabytes!’ ”

Boswell offered that example as to how subject matter experts can speak more effectively as part of her technical session, “Powerful Business Presentations: How Engineers & Technical Experts Can Win Their Audience Every Time,” during the 2024 Technology & Maintenance Council Annual Meeting and Transportation Technology Exhibition on March 6.

Stressing the importance of not “showing up and throwing up” when it comes to breaking down complex subjects, Boswell said instead of speakers showing audiences how much they know, they should inquire on the who and why of their presentation. Her expertise is helping corporate executives, managers and technical experts speak more effectively in public settings.

Any tech expert can make a technical topic more complicated. A real speaker can make it easy.

Professional speeh coach Deborah Boswell

“Any tech expert can make a technical topic more complicated. A real speaker can make it easy. Subject matter experts should invest in explaining technical things to nontechnical people,” she explained. “Figure out who are you speaking to? What are you trying to change? Why are you communicating? You have to know your who and why.”

Key Questions

Public speaking expert Deborah Boswell breaks down the preparation process into four “question quadrants:”

Who is my audience?

What do they want from my message?

What do I want them to take away?

What outcome do I want?

Boswell, who also conducted a public speaking training session for this year’s TMC Leaders of Tomorrow members, used several examples for preparing a presentation. For instance, she offered several ways to open a speech that included starting with a rhetorical question, humorous anecdote, story, shocking statistic, call to action or notable quotes.

She noted that the speaker should have respect for the listener and prepare an informative but precise speech. One pet peeve Boswell mentioned was the use of presentation slides, and how often speakers use them as a crutch rather than an assisting tool.

“Slides are not your teleprompter,” she said. “Less is more. You do not need a slide for every darn word you say,” suggesting speakers edit their slides or use visual aids to provide a clear theme for the audience to follow.

“Car parts [are a great example of] actual equipment to use as aids,” Boswell said. “You put it in your hands and hold it, and we will remember that when we see it.”

In addition, Boswell addressed the usual nerves a speaker would feel before a presentation and how to approach it.

“If you’re sweating, hold something cold,” she offered. “How many times have you seen someone hold the clicker as their hands are shaking, or their voice? Managing nerves is important, but you should be nervous when you speak. Don’t be afraid of public speaking. You should be speaking and using your voice.

Boswell ended her session hammering on improving one’s public speaking as a tool, such as practicing out loud and reading to build vocabulary. She added that it would serve TMC attendees well as they are learning about leadership. She borrowed a phrase from former President Harry S. Truman.

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers,” she said. “You want influence, start reading. Simulation is the best way to practice your speech. TMC wants good leadership, and good leaders can work on good speaking skills.”

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