Matt Eventoff has been in the business of helping people present themselves since late 2001, when he started the MESA Group, a strategic planning and message development firm. He learned something there that sent him on the next step in his career: “As that business and grew and expanded, and I had the opportunity to interact with more people in corporate America,” he says, “I realized how vital interpersonal communication was.”
With that realization, he signed up for a master’s program in leadership communications at the University of Pennsylvania, which he is now finishing. Early on he took a public speaking class where he says he “really hit it off with the professor” and he found he had a knack for understanding and teaching others the different elements involved: how to properly convey thoughts with the body through appropriate movement, vocal variety, and tone; and, most of all, how to feel comfortable speaking to an audience.
Learning to speak effectively in public is a very individual process. “It is a process of review and working with someone,” he explains. “There is no cookie cutter mode.”
Eventoff’s interest in public speaking led directly to his developing a new business, PPS Associates, which has offices at 66 Witherspoon Street; it does speech and presentation skills training and message development. “We take leaders and make them into great communicators,” he says.
“We don’t program people,” he says. “We focus on what they want to say rather than deliver sound bytes or something that sounds scripted, canned, or delivered by a focus group or poll.”
Eventoff emphasizes that public speaking does not just mean speaking to 500 or even 50 people. “Everyone needs to be able to communicate, a nonprofit director talking to a board, a new company talking to potential investors,” he says. “You’re representing your self, who you are, you’re talking to someone else.”
Eventoff grew up in Toms River and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Maryland in 1995. He got interested in politics partly through his commitment to children’s issues. He has been a volunteer at the Cherry Tree Club, a Homefront day program for preschoolers, and at the Monmouth Day Care Center in Monmouth County, and during college he was an intern for four years at the Maryland National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Eventoff suggests three steps to help people become stronger speakers and leaders:
Slow down. “Public speaking is not a race. People want to hear what you have to say, but you have to give them the ability to,” says Eventoff. Even an individual with a reputation for knowledge and charisma, who is engaging and using positive body language, can leave listeners confused if they are not given sufficient time to process the message. A second of silence may seem like an eternity to the speaker, but to listeners, it is a second that allows them to absorb the speaker’s ideas.
“Take brief pause, a breath, a sip of water, whatever you need to do to slow yourself down,” suggests Eventoff. “Your audience will appreciate it.”
Smile. Smiling is contagious. “Smiling is the equivalent of body language 101,” says Eventoff. “Nothing will get the audience on your side faster than an authentic, genuine smile.” Smiling also improves the speaker’s confidence.
But the suggestion to smile comes with a warning. If you’re not in a great mood, you have to do something proactive to change that. “Never fake a smile,” he says, because the audience can tell. Instead think about your Sunday at the zoo with your toddler, or about how funny your colleague’s outfit looks, and put the bad vibes out of your mind. “There is always something that will put a smile on your face,” says Eventoff, “and you are the best person to know what that something is.”
Stay brief. “Keep it simple,” says Eventoff. “Less is always more. Always.”
Princeton Public Speaking/PPS Associates, 66 Witherspoon Street, Suite 125, Princeton 08542; 609-681-5044; fax, 609-681-5045. Matt Eventoff. Home page: www.princetonpublicspeaking.com