If you ‘Google’ the most valuable skills for knowledge workers – those whose jobs involve handling or using information, communication will likely be top of the list. Communication skills are at the heart of business success and are core to organisations delivering value to employees, shareholders, and customers. In organisations, people are constantly communicating, whether implicitly or not. Therefore, it goes without saying that to succeed in today’s world; people must learn to communicate and, most importantly, to do it effectively.
Some experts have estimated that the average business executive spends approximately 75% to 80% of the day engaged in oral or written communication. Communication skills are essential in virtually every career. Practitioners in Big Four accounting firms (Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and Deloitte) spend 80% of their time communicating with others, individually and in groups. Likewise, engineers spend most of their professional lives writing, speaking, and listening.
Communication is a vast subject and would need more than a single article to explore fully. Therefore, this article will focus on how public speaking skills can propel personal career growth and business growth.
Why care about public speaking
Public speaking has the power to demonstrate competence and confidence, highly coveted traits by employers. Speaking in public builds credibility amongst peers and demonstrates leadership capabilities as one commands center stage. Staying poised while speaking in public is also a marker of future leadership potential. Organisations are assured that they can rely on an employee to represent them in public without facing reputational brand risk. Apart from that, public speaking also gains visibility within the organisation and separates individuals from the crowd.
Furthermore, public speaking does more than elevate one in the eyes of managers and senior executives. Speaking at conferences and events could increase industry reputation, leading to better opportunities outside one’s work. Most workers today are engaged in portfolio careers defined as various roles rather than one job at a single organisation. Therefore, taking advantage of public speaking engagements could be a way to land a new opportunity and elevate one’s career.
Public speaking also leads to networking opportunities that could position one as a thought leader and expert in their field. Experts in their respective fields have reported earning as much as five times their monthly salary through opportunities generated from public speaking on industry topics. Furthermore, the altruism of contributing to developing a product or industry should make anyone consider becoming a master public speaker.
How to become a master public speaker
Few naturally gifted public speakers can command a stage effortlessly. The majority have to work on public speaking with coaches and specialist organisations. One such organisation is Toastmasters International, which has helped people from diverse backgrounds become more confident speakers, communicators, and leaders. There are currently 11 clubs in Zambia for those looking to build this skill.
Here are five tips from Toastmasters on how to be a master public speaker and elevate your career:
1. Know your subject and your speech;
Nervousness is reported as the biggest hindrance to public speaking. The first guide to overcoming nervousness is to know the subject matter thoroughly. It is easier to speak confidently about a well-known subject than one known vaguely. Therefore, taking the time to do deep research on a topic and mastering the presentation will lead to success in public speaking.
2. Know your audience and your space;
Secondly, it is crucial to know the audience, their needs as well as the physical space of the presentation. For example, a presentation to a group of fellow engineers will differ from one to high school students looking for a career option. The message should be tailored to the audience’s needs and the space it will be presented. Before speaking, check the facilities at the event, such as a screen, audio output, and the position of the podium, to name a few.
3. Never apologise;
Research has shown that audiences are not 100% engaged during presentations and speeches. Therefore, speakers should not apologize for making minor mistakes while speaking. Apologizing calls attention to the wrong parts of the presentation and distracts from the main point. A good public speaker should guide the audience through the essential aspects and remember that the audience is looking for a good outcome.
4. Imagine yourself giving a great speech;
Visualisation plays a significant role in public speaking success. As part of the preparation, the speaker must take time to see themselves making a great presentation and good points. It is also important to visualize the audience’s reaction to the presentation at the end. This will relax the speaker and build confidence before hitting the stage.
5. Focus on your message, not on yourself.
Finally, the focus should always be on the message, not on oneself. When the inevitable mistakes happen, speakers lose focus leading to a shaky voice and stuttering in some cases. However, the message is why people listen in the first place and should be the focus throughout the presentation.
Armed with these tips, conquer your fear and give public speaking a shot. The future and its opportunities await!