Best of the Net

If imagining your audience naked doesn't ease your fears about public speaking, these sites might

Sometimes even a corporate energizer needs recharging. Each year motivational speaker Joyce Weiss delivers 50 to 75 speeches to businesses -- everything from keynote addresses at national conferences to pep talks at the workshops she runs. On any given day she might speak in front of organizations ranging from the U.S. Department of Defense to a farm bureau in Iowa. It's no surprise that after months on the road she sometimes finds herself all talked out.

How does she get her juices flowing again? Recently, Weiss discovered a Web site that inspired her: the Allyn & Bacon Public Speaking site, "This site is a jump start for me, like a double shot of caffeine," she says. At the site she can listen to presidents and other figures from history -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy, for example, or Martin Luther King Jr. -- deliver speeches on audio. Their words, she says, not only enliven her but also help jog her memory about speeches she's given during the past 15 years.

If you too need a nudge to get moving on that daunting speech -- and who doesn't? -- take a look at the Web sites on public speaking that we've rounded up. We filtered out marketing destinations for coaches and other hard-sell sites that want you to join an organization or shell out cash for books and tapes. In the end we found a handful of useful entries offering words of wisdom on topics like creating Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, using humor in speeches, and researching topics. Then we enlisted three company leaders with excellent speaking credentials to take the sites for a spin. They looked at content and tested interactive features such as audio clips and software downloads.

In general our reviewers concluded that the selected sites won't put Toastmasters out of business anytime soon. That's because public speaking is the kind of thing that you learn by watching and doing; you become a facile talker by, well, talking. Still, the sites can be valuable as an adjunct to actual experience. "Most of the sites do the same thing as books and tapes," says Weiss. "They are fast and loaded with information." And best of all, they're free.

Going into the reviewing process, Bill Imada was skeptical that he'd gain anything from visiting a Web site dedicated to the topic of public speaking. As president and CEO of Imada Wong Communications Group, Imada speaks frequently about ethnic marketing. But after perusing the sites, he changed his mind. He was particularly impressed with's reference section on organizations offering support to speakers, as well as its glossary of terms to enhance a speech. "Overall the sites are very good to excellent," he says. But, he notes, "nothing can replace the education you will receive by sitting in on a live speech."

Financial adviser Bruce Helmer agrees. As the host of a weekly radio call-in show, he's of the practice-makes-perfect mind-set. "The forcing of one to speak will always be the best avenue," he says. Still, he also sees a role for the sites, particularly as a way to begin the learning process.

Advanced Public Speaking Institute (
What it's good for: A college student or someone who needs a quick fix at the last minute just before a speaking engagement. The information on the site is broken into 20 categories, making it easy to navigate, and the site offers more than 100 short articles on topics as varied as delivering a punch line and dressing for a TV appearance.

Don't waste your time if: You want in-depth information. The value of this site is in its simple tips and easy-to-find content.

What our CEOs had to say: "Quick and easy to use. The glossary lists most of the important things that all speakers should know." "Excellent content."

What you should know: The site's glossary can give you a whole new vocabulary, with words like flop sweat (fear of performing) and blue humor (risquÉ humor).

PowerPointers (
What it's good for: Salespeople or meeting planners who need to lead a discussion group or run a meeting. Of particular interest is a new section called "Communications in Your Specialty," which provides such information as how to deliver speeches in various venues, the value of asking questions, sales and negotiation tactics, and ways to enhance a direct-mail or telemarketing program.

Don't waste your time if: You're a professional speaker. One reviewer found the content good for salespeople but not advanced enough for the expert.

What our CEOs had to say: "Useful for people who are using visual aids such as PowerPoint." "Appealing, simple, and functional" but "somewhat industrial looking." "OK on sales topics [but] does not contain that much information on speech development." One tester pointed out that the author list includes renowned experts like Marjorie Brody and Zig Ziglar, plus contact information if you want to follow up with anyone.

What you should know: Don't assume that you'll find information only about PowerPoint presentations. The site has a broad range of articles on topics ranging from how to conquer the fear of public speaking to how to moderate a panel.

Presenters University (
What it's good for: Beginners. The "courses" are divided into three parts -- content, delivery, and visual aids -- and include many articles on each subject. The site also links to downloads of some of the latest software and speaking aids, such as PowerPlugs products, which bring TV-style effects to presentations, and SmartSound, which enables you to create music sound tracks.

Don't waste your time if: You need anything more than cursory information.

What our CEOs had to say: "If you want to take advantage of some of the downloads, you have to give something back," said one, referring to personal information that vendors often request. Another tester found the site "functional yet weak on content."

What you should know: The site is sponsored by InFocus Corp., a manufacturer of digital projectors.

Allyn & Bacon Public Speaking Website (
What it's good for: Beginners to professionals. The site provides basic steps on how to research a topic, with links to search tools, advocacy groups, publications, and legal and government sources. More-advanced speakers can use an interactive exercise to draw a psychographic profile of their intended audience.

Don't waste your time if: You lose patience easily. Finding information required work, one reviewer said.

What our CEOs had to say: "Good teaching site," commented one reviewer. Another tester said that the site provided good basic steps for beginners by breaking the speaking process into these categories: assess, analyze, research, organize, and deliver. "The interactive exercises, notes from the instructor, real audio, and resources make this one a winner," said that reviewer.

What you should know: Allyn & Bacon is a publisher of professional resources and college textbooks, which may be why some of the material is geared toward teachers of public speaking.

Our panelists
Bruce Helmer is president of Wealth Enhancement Group, based in Wayzata, Minn. He's a frequent lecturer on personal financial issues and has developed and taught courses to financial professionals.

Bill Imada is president and CEO of Imada Wong Communications Group Inc., a Los Angeles-based firm that specializes in marketing to the Asian-Pacific community in the United States. He speaks about ethnic marketing and communications.

Joyce Weiss is a motivational speaker, author, and consultant based in West Bloomfield, Mich. She's the author of Full Speed Ahead: Become Driven by Change and Take the Ride of Your Life!

Rachael King is a freelance writer based in Glen Ridge, N.J.

The savvy entrepreneur's guide to online public-speaking sites

Strengths Likely
quality/quantity Quick information The novice Excellent Information about using visual aids; audio features Salespeople, meeting planners Good to excellent Practical advice for writing speeches Beginners Fair to good Basic steps and interactive exercises Beginners to professionals Good to excellent

Please e-mail your comments to