This is a guest post by Jim Holmes.
Workplace Benefits of Public Speaking
Much of our effectiveness in the workplace ties to how well we convey the message to those around us. Communication amongst humans is always a challenging effort, and it’s made harder by muddled ideas, wandering and tedious concepts, and stammering or hesitant deliveries.
Learning some fundamentals from public speaking can be a tremendous asset to one’s ability to influence change in the workplace. Such skills don’t require you to knock out keynotes at 2,200 person conferences. Rather, effective public speaking fundamentals can be learned and practiced in many different ways.
Regardless of how one comes to improve their public speaking, everyone can see results in several key areas.
Much of what we do in the workplace revolves around effective persuasion. Do you need to convince your teammates about the benefits of pairing up developers and testers on regular work tasks? Having problems making a case with your managers that product quality will dramatically improve if the team works to complete testing activities in the same sprint as development work? Are you attempting to sway your organization to create project “Definitions of Done” to drive consistent delivery criteria for all work items?
Persuasion is a critical part of being successful in one’s career. Developing your public speaking skills can help you improve the effectiveness of messages you’re trying to deliver to your colleagues.
Excellent public speaking often relies on winning the audience, large or small, over to your viewpoint. Learning to be a better public speaker involves honing your persuasion skills. Feedback from the audience and other speakers or event organizers can be an extraordinary boost to how you make your case.
Later in the article, I speak to the importance of brevity for effective messages; however, a few other simple speaking fundamentals can have a significant impact. Moreover, they’re relatively simple to learn!
Learning to create clean, well-styled and laid-out presentations can be one of the easiest steps in improving your ability to get good messages across. Moving away from the painful “Death By Powerpoint” and adapting various styles from “Beyond Bulletpoints”, “Presentation Zen”, or similar resources doesn’t take much effort at all—the key is to move away from overloading visuals with too much content, and instead learning to bring your audience’s focus to you versus a slide.
Great presentations, regardless of whether it’s a five-minute pitch to your managers or a lunch workshop for your team, all have a good flow: There’s a clear opening, a meaningful body of the message, and a solid closing. Understanding how to build and refine that flow comes through practice, and again, this is something you can pick up and polish through various public speaking activities.
All these easily learned basics can give your persuasion efforts a significant boost, and all can be learned and polished through simple public speaking activities.
Learning to distill your message is crucial if you’re going to win your audience over, regardless of the message you’re presenting. Think back to the worst meetings or presentations you’ve been in. Chances are the speaker droned on and on with a message that may have been important, but was lost somewhere after the speaker’s eight repetitions of basic fundamentals.
Public speaking generally involves some form of time constraint, regardless if you’re speaking to five attendees at a small meetup or hundreds in an audience at a major conference. Those time constraints, terrifying at first, become a blessing in disguise as you are forced to pare down your message to fit within the allotted time.
Good public speakers have learned that attendees of breakout sessions (45-60 minutes) can usually only take away a few main points—generally no more than three. While this may seem like a ridiculously small number of main points, it soon becomes apparent how crucial brevity is as one tries to pare down the critical parts of the message to the most vital, salient pieces.
In my mind, the most significant benefit I’ve gained from public speaking is confidence in making presentations to colleagues, superiors, and clients regardless of their level in their organizational structure.
So many people, including myself, have passed on the opportunity of even small public speaking opportunities. “I have stage fright! There’s no way I could get in front of an audience!” The vast majority of public speakers struggle with many different forms of stage fright. Even Henry Fonda, a famous American film and stage actor whose skill was recognized with many major awards, continued to have stage fright before starting his Broadway performances—and that was at age 80 after decades of being one of America’s most recognized, accomplished actors!
Learning to cope with stage fright is a mix of practice and practical skills. Practice is “merely” pushing through a few times and learning that indeed, regardless of how badly you think you did, you didn’t outright die on stage in front of your audience. The practical tips are learned over time from other speakers and can be as simple as learning to focus on a few friendly faces in the audience or learning to avoid holding a death grip on the podium while you try to keep it in front of you like a shield from the audience.
It’s rather extraordinary the confidence one gains from getting in front of even a small group and getting a coherent, impactful message across to the group. Learning to handle and push through nerves or stage fright is a skill everyone can learn—even Henry Fonda!
Getting Started With Public Speaking
Again, nothing I’m proposing in this article requires you standing in front of hundreds at a TEDx talk or keynoting a major software conference! All these things can be learned and polished at small events where you can learn in supportive, safe environments.
I highly recommend looking up a Toastmasters International branch near you. Toastmasters offers terrific opportunities to develop one’s public speaking skills–it’s the organization’s entire mission! Other Toastmaster members are incredibly supportive. After all, it’s the reason they joined!
Local meetups and user groups frequently offer similar opportunities and regularly provide shorter speaking opportunities such as lightning talks.
More and more conferences are providing speaking slots for newcomers. The better conferences like ThatConference even provide help creating abstracts and preparing for talks!
Public speaking can be extremely rewarding for many reasons. Too often the benefits directly in one’s workplace are overlooked. Spend some time on improving your speaking skills. You will likely be surprised!
Jim is an Executive Consultant at Pillar Technology where he works with organizations trying to improve their software delivery process. He’s also the owner/principal of Guidepost Systems which lets him engage directly with struggling organizations. He has been in various corners of the IT world since joining the US Air Force in 1982. He’s spent time in LAN/WAN and server management roles in addition to many years helping teams and customers deliver great systems. Jim has worked with organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 10 companies to improve their delivery processes and ship better value to their customers. When not at work you might find Jim in the kitchen with a glass of wine, playing Xbox, hiking with his family, or banished to the garage while trying to practice his guitar…..