Tag Archives: speech giving

The Single Most Important Skill for Any Career

Noooo…it’s not the ability to be Cheesy MC guy.

My son has signed me up to come speak to his marketing class on Friday. Not a big deal, I did it for his older brother a couple years ago.

A couple of the questions include, “What does it take to be successful in your career field? ” and “What can a student start doing now to prepare for this career?”, which got me thinking.

Since I find myself more or less on my third or fourth “career” I think I can say with some level of expertise that there IS a singular skill that has been crucial for success in ALL of them. The ability to communicate. No wait, let me communicate that more concisely.

The one skill that can help propel any career forward is the ability to speak publicly. Whether you have to communicate progress to a superior, impart information to a team of co-workers, or address a crowd of hundreds of customers you’re going to have to have some level of competence as a public speaker.

Why is it then that “public speaking” consistently ranks in the top 10 things people fear most? We speak in public all the time! Those who only speak in private are typically diagnosed as being crazy in some way shape or form…or they own lots of cats.

There are LOTS of ways to answer that question but rather than taking that on allow me to provide three reminders that can help anyone either being to conquer their fear or just become a better speaker.

1. It isn’t about you.
Even when you’re telling someone about you you’re providing that information for a reason. Job interview? Not about you. It’s about them trying to find the right person. Selling a product? Not about you. It’s about them trying to solve a problem or meet a need. Speaking to a marketing class about your career? Not about you. It’s about helping them make choices about their future.

When you think about it in this way the pressure is off of you and on the information. When you realize it is about helping the audience get the information they need you can focus on the information and not worry about what they think of YOU.

2. Honesty IS the best policy.
If you’re being asked to present information to an audience there is an underlying assumption that you: a)know what you’re talking about and b) know more about it than the audience does.

If either of those statements is false admit it up front. You’ll either be let off the hook OR you’ll be given more information that may help shed light on the fact that you do INDEED know what you’re talking about.

In either case faking it is a bad idea.

3. Public speaking is a skill.
And like any other skill it needs to be practiced and polished. Even the most artful public communicators don’t just hop up and wing it every time. Even guys that seem to make it ALL up as they go, aka Robin Williams, have bits they practice and rehearse that keep them grounded in their skills.

Don’t think the way to overcome fear of public speaking, or to become a better communicator, is to merely avoid it or to get psyched up for it with a lot of coffee when forced into having to speak. Investing time in training and practice will pay off throughout every stage of your career, no matter what field.

Some of today’s headline politicians were rocketed into the limelight on the strength of a single speech. No matter which side of the political fence you’re on, even if you tend to straddle it, you can’t deny the power of being a good public communicator.

If you want to start honing your craft I CAN recommend an excellent opportunity coming up in October. Check out the SCORRE Conference.

In the meantime though…what is it about public speaking that causes you the most anxiety?


A Simple Truth that Creates Better Communication

I spent the better part of this last week at the SCORRE Conference instructing folks on how to become better, more dynamic communicators.

Even though I have been a part of teaching this same material for close to twenty years I still discover something new about communicating almost every time we get together for the conference.

Imagine with me two different scenes:

Scene 1

The year is 1970. Disco hasn’t quite made it’s appearance on the scene yet but like a fowl smell on the breeze it is coming. Plaid shirts and corduroy pants with widely flared legs are quite the style. You make your way through the doors of the New Bank of My Town to transfer your account, the dulcet tones of the Girl from Ipanema playing softly in the background. Within moments, your transaction complete, you stroll back out the door, smiling, with a brand new toaster under your arm!

Scene 2

It’s your birthday! You wake up hoping that folks will remember but not quite ready to wear a sign on your chest announcing the importance of the day. You arrive at work and find an envelope on your desk. Inside is a card directing you to the break room. You smile to yourself thinking someone has gathered the crew together for coffee and donuts but when you get to the break room you find…another card. The process repeats itself several times. Each clue leading you somewhere else in the building until finally one leads you back out to your car! Surprised an curious you make your way back out to the car and notice a wrapped present on the front seat. You climb in and eagerly tear open the wrapping to find a toaster and note. “Please come join me for breakfast. Happy Birthday!”

In either case you get a toaster. Cool, you needed a toaster. So what’s the difference? The process of receiving.

Too often as communicators we get in a hurry to deliver the goods. Like the bank that gives away the free toaster we give our audience exactly what they expect. In our desire to provide them some benefit in exchange for listening, like the bank wants to  in exchange for our business, we lay the good right our there to be picked up and taken home.

Allow me to suggest three reasons our communication should be more like birthday treat than a bank toaster.

1. The joy of discovery

People, in general, like surprises especially pleasant ones. Whether we’re giving a speech, a sermon, or a product presentation people like those moments of surprise when they get more than they anticipated getting at the start.

2. The appreciation of elegance

Folks recognize when you’ve taken the time and made the effort. Even the simple difference between tossing a birthday present into someones lap unwrapped and handing them a well wrapped package catches peoples attention. It communicates that you care enough about the recipient to make the presentation part of the gift rather than just doing your duty. Even if you’re overly excited to give them their present they’ll appreciate the time and attention you took in the wrapping of it.

3. The effect of effort

If I walk into the bank expecting a toaster and get what I expect I critically examine to toaster to see if it matches my expectations. If, on the other hand, I get a surprise gift I am moved by the surprise and look at the toaster from an attitude of continued discovery to see what it has to offer. You audience will to your communication in the same way. Either with a critical eye to see if you’re delivering on the promise you dumped out in the your agenda, introduction, hand-out etc. OR with an eye towards discovering what you’re offering in a carefully crafted surprise package.

Whether you’re giving a speech, preaching a sermon, or writing a blog post don’t just dump it in their lap. Take the time to wrap the gift so that your audience can experience the joy of discovery and the appreciation of elegance. You will see the effect of your efforts. They’ll get the toaster either way but they’ll be moved by the surprise in a way that makes them appreciate you every time they make toast.

How can you make your communications more like a wrapped present that surprises and delights?