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What’s the value of good public speaking?

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Sarah Gardner:President Obama tonight gives one of the most important speeches of his life at the Democratic convention. Both he and former President Clinton, who spoke last night, seem pretty at ease in front of a big crowd. Clinton spoke for more than 45 minutes, some of it ad-libbed. And it made us wonder, what about the rest of us? How would we do in front of a crowd that size? Today, there’s a big business behind public speaking.

From Washington, Marketplace’s David Gura reports.

David Gura: Friends, listeners, countrymen, lend me your ears. If you want to become a better public speaker, that’ll cost you.

Aileen Pincus: Well, the kind of training I offer is expensive. And there’s no doubt about that.

Aileen Pincus is a speech trainer — she works mostly with high-level executives — and her rates range from $100 to $500 an hour. For that, you get one-on-one coaching, objective feedback, and tips. One tip Pincus has is not to focus all your attention on your delivery. She says everyone she coaches gets nervous. You might worry the audience is judging you.

Pincus: You know what? They are. And that’s the power in this. It’s that you’re going to let them judge you. You’re going to let them see your great ideas and communicate them.

These days, communicating great ideas is important. Brian Callahan is a public speaking consultant based in Washington. And he says the price of what he offers is worth it.

Brian Callahan: It’s the good presenters. It’s the good public speakers. It’s the confident communicators who are rising up the business ladder.

Another consultant, Stephanie Silverman, says business is up since the economic downturn. She says effective public speaking skills are a way to get a leg up on your competition.

Stephanie Silverman: I think that what was once considered a throw-away soft skill has been growing in importance as people begin to realize that knowing your business is not enough.

Silverman says it takes practice — and work — to communicate comfortably. And I should know. It’s not easy to butcher one of Shakespeare’s most-famous lines on a national radio show.

In Washington, I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

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