MOST DEALERS ARE GREAT COMMUNICATORS. Their job requires them to get their points across to customers, manufacturer field reps and staffers.

Good communication skills also fuel effective public speaking. Some dealers run on empty there.

But how many dealers must get up in front of a group and speak?

A lot. So says C. Mike Jousan. He conducts training sessions to enhance dealers' communication skills, especially before an audience.

Many dealers, as community leaders, address civic groups and service clubs from time to time. They also must sometimes give standup presentations at industry events.

That form of communication is unlike a vehicle walk-around at the showroom, and it's something few people, including dealers, do naturally, says Jousan of Clear Communications Co. in Scottsdale, AZ.

“A lot of dealers need work at public-speaking, but they're better at it than the engineers and financial people I've worked with,” he tells me.

Jousan conducted a public speaking seminar, entitled “What did you say?” at the NADA convention in New Orleans. Dealers and their employees packed the room.

The most outgoing person can become unsettled — even horrified — at the notion of getting up and addressing a large group.

But Jousan says, “Such presentations need not be exercises in terror on the part of those who do them, or exercises in boredom on the part of those who hear them.”

His advice is to turn nervousness into focused energy. For instance, convert fidgeting hands into gesturing hands. The latter are “one of the best communication tools you have.”

Don't worry if you're on edge throughout your presentation. Just don't let the audience know you're nervous. Don't show them. And certainly don't tell them. Chances are they won't know — unless you let them in on it.

“You can be scared to death up there, but if you talk firmly and calmly, that's the perception that's conveyed to the audience,” says Jousan.

To him, public speaking is a “contact sport.”

He explains, “Use your eyes. If you are going to be talking, look at the people you are talking to. Don't read a speech or be looking at your visuals on a screen. Make eye contact with all sections of the room. It's tempting to stay with friendly faces. Resist that temptation. Try to make every face friendly.

“Use your voice. It's not just saying words. It's how you say them. I showed a videotape of a guy in one of my seminars, so he could get feedback from it. He said, ‘I looked like I was doing a hostage tape.’

“Use body language. It indicates that you're comfortable, natural and ready to take charge.” Even if you aren't. Again, it's what the audience perceives, rather than what you know about your inner feelings of the time.

Jouson says good public speakers are good storytellers. So use anecdotes to highlight points. Begin and end with “grabbers” delivered with energy.

Ironically, a public speaking study says audiences place only 7% importance on what you say. That's opposed to 38% on the way you say it, and 55% on your body language.

“Look at Al Gore,” says Jouson. “He's a bright guy with a great sense of humor. Yet he always appears stiff when speaking to crowds.”

Jouson suggests familiarizing yourself with your notes, but don't take them up to the podium. In fact, he recommends against standing behind the podium. It blocks body language.

Here's what he says to do if you forget a point:

“Pause, unfocus and refocus towards another part of the room. It usually comes back. If it doesn't, then go to the next point.

“But don't show nervousness. You can lose it, as long as the audience doesn't know.”

And avoid “trash” words. Words like “er,” “you know,” and “basically.”

“We use those words to create thinking time, but they'll kill you.”

Finally, be who you are.

“Don't try to hide an accent,” says Jouson, a native Texan. “It leaves a bad impression and it sounds pretentious.”

Go team go

Sean Riley, who runs a great cigar shop down the street from my office (and whose wife, Elma, works for Ward's) wanted me to know that he traveled 30 miles to do business with a particular dealership that a friend had recommended.

That's a long way to go, but Riley says it was worth getting his Dodge Durango at Brighton (MI) Chrysler Dodge.

Here's why, he says:

“We were impressed with how they handled things. How they talked to us. They went through all the steps with us…

“When the car came in, they even offered to deliver it. But we went there to pick it up because we wanted to meet the man behind the deal. It turns out there were several people. Everyone was helpful, friendly and informative.”

It's great to hear about teamwork at dealerships. It's even greater to experience it. Just ask customers who do.


Steve Finlay is editor of Ward's Dealer Business. His e-mail address is: sfinlay@primediabusiness.com