‘To be a good speaker, be a good listener, first’

Mark Brown

Public speaking champion Mark Brown on being an effective communicator

Chennai, December 12



It would help young managers if they listen carefully to what people are saying, before they start talking.

“Most of those listening to a conversation are just waiting to start talking,” says Mark Brown, a US-based public speaker. “Very often, good ideas and solutions can come from your subordinates, if you listen to them,” says Brown.

It’s as important to communicate clearly and effectively, he says, to avoid ambiguity.

He should know a thing or two about speaking. In 1995, Brown aced a contest involving 20,000 people from 14 countries to win the Toastmasters World Championship of Public Speaking. Since then, he has been a globetrotter, speaking on a variety of subjects — to over 1.5 million people at last count — across five continents.

He was in Chennai recently to speak at Reverberation 2017, the semi-annual conference of District 82 of Toastmasters International.

Elaborating on the importance of an unambiguous message, Brown says: “Suppose you say, ‘I need this ASAP’. To some people, ASAP could mean ‘as soon as possible for me based on my current set of priorities’. So, be specific and say, ‘Can I get this by 2 pm tomorrow afternoon’. Specificity leads to clarity.”

Specificity and clarity

“Are your emails or SMS communication clear enough, and do your colleagues understand them? Sometimes, poor communication can lead to poor planning and perhaps a poor product, and can cost a lot of money. So, mind how you send emails and text messages,” is Brown’s advice to young managers.

Brown says that while speaking in public, it’s important to know the audience and understand their perspective.

“Put yourself in their shoes and think how your words can help them reach a certain goal or gain information or entertain them. In addition, one has to be sure that one’s message is valid. Learning to have eye contact, to pause and build a relationship with the audience, these are skills that one can learn,” he elaborates.

One can certainly learn and train to be an effective speaker. Brown speaks from experience, having left Jamaica for the US when he was 18.

“I could not speak well. My voice would trail off, but over time and through Toastmasters, I gained the confidence to speak clearly, and believed that my voice should be heard.”

Addressing audiences

Brown himself prepares carefully to address different audiences.

First, learn who the audience is. “I have been speaking for over 20 years. I talk to young people aged 12-18, including secondary school students; to prepare, I use references that a 13-year-old can understand and relate to. With a business audience, my material and approach is different.”

Communication & India

Brown stresses the importance of English as the language of business communication the world over.

In India on his second visit, Brown sees a hunger for excellence in communication.

“I have seen people work hard on their communication skills as they realise that to be a leader, you have to learn to communicate effectively with subordinates, stakeholders and clients. They want to communicate their ideas, vision and goals clearly. Many Toastmasters are also members of corporate clubs, and they use the skills they learn here in the real world of business,” explains the orator.

Ask him if he’s ever at a loss for words, and Brown says, laughing: “I’m married!” Then adds: “Rarely am I at a loss for words, but I do take the words I deliver very seriously. Many people need to consider the power of the pause. Take some time to gather your thoughts before you deliver what you want to say. And then formulate your answer.”

Published on December 12, 2017
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