Four key skills to master now

Stand and deliver. Cut a sweet deal. Rev your reading. Make a name stick - and reap the rewards.

By Reed Tucker

(Fortune Magazine) -- Becoming a titan of business requires mastery of all sorts of tasks, from the complicated (budget projections) to the trivial (figuring out why the printer keeps telling you it needs paper in tray A-1 when any idiot can see there's plenty of damn paper there). Admittedly, most skills worth having take years to perfect. But there are others that anyone can improve relatively quickly - and that can have a quick and measurable impact on your career. To that end, we've identified experts in four key areas and asked them to construct action plans to help novices grow into deft operators. Absorb these lessons, and you'll be more effective and time-efficient, at home and at work. And the next time the printer jams, you'll be that much smoother at finding someone else who can fix it for you.

Public speaking made easy

When it comes to fears, public speaking ranks right up there with death or finding yourself sitting between Lou Dobbs and Bill Maher on a cross-country plane trip. But there's nothing to be afraid of, says Richard Greene, author of Words That Shook the World, as long as you've got a game plan. Greene points the way.

Prepare your head. "Be physically energized and centered before you walk in the room," says Greene. If your energy level is low, do some physical activity beforehand to invigorate yourself. Take deep breaths to calm any nervousness.

It's not a performance. "People have a flawed perception of what speaking is about," says Greene. "The greatest speakers, like F.D.R., Reagan, and Clinton, approach it as a conversation with the audience."

Podiums are for dictators and high school principals. Standing behind a podium disconnects you from the audience and may worsen fragile nerves. Instead, grab the mike and wander the stage or room, or at least step to the side of the podium and lean against it.

Dress the audience. Picturing the audience naked is actually "one of the worst things you can do," Greene says. How comfortable would you feel chatting with the naked guy in the gym locker room?

Eye contact is your friend. "You're speaking to individual people," Greene says. Looking at them one by one shrinks the room.

Don't sweat the questions. If you're stumped, "regard it as a positive," Greene coaches. Seize the opportunity to talk about your team: "We're lucky to have one of the real experts on that subject. I'll get you in touch with him or her later."

The art of negotiation

In pursuing a high-stakes deal or just asking for a raise, using the right phrases matters. Herb Cohen, author of Negotiate This, and advisor to presidents Carter and Reagan, shares his best lines.

"How did you come up with that number?" Opens a window into the other side's thoughts.

"Where were we?" Look like you care, but not that much.

"Let me check with my wife." Or my husband, my boss, my banker. Stops you from saying yes prematurely.

"Huh? Wha?" Pretend you don't understand, and others will talk.

"If things change, give me a call." Be willing to walk away - and put the burden on them.

The gospel of speed reading

Slow readers not only waste time but their comprehension suffers, says H. Bernard Wechsler of the Speed Learning Institute of America. Here are his five tips for burning up the pages.

Never read without a pen. By moving the tip of a pen beneath a line, your eyes will instinctively follow, speeding you up. On a computer, run the onscreen cursor under the text.

Pick up the book. Reading at a 45-degree angle is easier on the eyes than off a flat surface.

Relax your eyes. Focus on full lines, not specific words, using peripheral vision. Move your head, and pay attention to the upper half of letters.

Kill that voice in your head. Silently repeating words slows you down. To break the habit, try quietly humming.

Keep on truckin'. Resist the urge to "regress" and reread.

Memory games

Have you ever confused a Don with a John? Benjamin Levy, author of Remember Every Name Every Time: Corporate America's Memory Master Reveals His Secrets, lays out his "catch and match" technique:

Always introduce yourself first. Execs can be so intent on selling themselves or their ideas that they fail to really make an impression by remembering someone's name. Instead get your own intro out of the way, fast. Then you can focus on the other person.

Confirm and repeat. In the first 20 seconds, make him feel there's no one else in the world.

Connect the name to your brain. When you meet a guy named Bill, start thinking of other Bills you know. Like Bill Clinton. Or, "Oh, my uncle Bill." Or a duckbill or a dollar bill. We need reminders.

Use the name three times. No third-rate salesman rap: "Well, John, great to see you, John." Spread it out - once to confirm you have the name right, then in mid-conversation, and again when you say goodbye.  Top of page