By Jon Lam, Toastmasters International
Do you ever look back to school or university days and remember moments when you carefully avoided a teacher’s gaze when he or she was looking for someone to answer a question? If so, we have something in common.
As a shy person, I have never felt a strong need to open my mouth (unless I am hungry). However, after missing out on countless opportunities in my personal and professional life by keeping my mouth shut, I realized that I had to start opening it more. And that meant improving my communication skills.
Image: Yay Images
And one way I found to help improve communication skills is to be brave and enter the world of public speaking. If you’re a reluctant or hesitant speaker, read on to discover why you should explore public speaking to avoid the regrets that come from keeping your mouth shut.
Support your career
It is common knowledge that by not speaking out at work, you can be missing out on career advancement opportunities. Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, emphasizes this by noting that Extroverts are routinely chosen for leadership positions and introverts are looked over, even though introverts often deliver better outcomes. This is because they are not considered as “leadership material”.
The keyword here is “leadership” which is defined by the New Oxford Dictionary of English as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization”; “the state or position of being a leader.”
Although exceptional “introvert” leaders such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk exist, they have all communicated their ideas and values to the world and have led their workforce by speaking publicly. Hence, there is a strong case to develop your public speaking skills to get your peers to respond to and be inspired by your ideas. This in turn will help you to establish more credibility in the organization and open yourself up to more career advancement opportunities.
It is no wonder why Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group stresses that communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.
Practice is key here so even if you feel apprehensive to take on a speaking or presentation opportunity at work, you should bite the bullet and go for it as you will not only establish credibility in the workplace but also find it easier to speak publicly with the practice.
Network and make connections
Finding common ground with others is often a crucial step taken when trying to build strong connections and make friends. Unless you meet someone who is telepathic, you’ll most likely have to tell them of your interests and ideas. This is where public speaking comes in. I remember harnessing skills such as voice projection and good body language before raising my hand to talk at events. And after sharing my ideas and stories at these events, I opened opportunities for like-minded attendees to approach me and discuss the ideas. This has led to countless new friends, I otherwise would not have made if I were not brave enough to speak up at events and share my ideas in an engaging way.
It is good to keep in mind that when speaking at any event, it is essential that you try to understand your audience and use effective techniques such as humour, if appropriate, to share your ideas. These techniques can be learned and if you put in the effort to do so, you will increase the chances of creating new connections with others who resonate with your engaging ideas.
During such turbulent times, it is easy for your voice to get lost in the noise. As a Chinese person, I grew up in a culture where it was more important to ‘save face’ and maintain harmony than to speak out. However, whilst growing up, I realised that by staying silent, one will always remain unheard. With more and more environmental and social issues brought to light nowadays, it is important to first get educated, and then speak up about what you believe in. Only this will help bring about a better change.
Once you take that first step of speaking up, you need to consider how you communicate your values. The ‘how’ really matters. For example, are you talking to the right audience or are you preaching to the converted? Are your ideas easy for everyone to understand or are you going off on tangents? These are areas that public speaking practise can help you hone so that you have the confidence to speak up and the means to do it effectively.
Spread your wings
It can be comfortable to sit back and listen while others express their views. But I learned that by remaining in my comfort zone, I would continue to let many opportunities slip through my fingers.
By spreading your wings, exiting your comfort zone and engaging with public speaking, you will improve your overall employability. Being able to speak up is an essential leadership skill so it is time to change and soar upwards.
Jon Lam is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organization that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.