Don’t Shirk From Public Speaking

This article was one of my MicroSoft Small Business Forum pieces. 

I love public speaking. I don’t get why so many people are put off by it. It’s famously said that many people would literally rather die than speak in front of a crowd.

Yes, I get nervous just before an engagement. I can’t eat or drink an hour beforehand, nor can I have a truly casual conversation, though I almost always have to try, given that addresses are typically preceded by cocktails and random shmoozing. But even the uncomfortableness is part and parcel of the entirety of the public speaking experience, and all of it must be savoured.

See, there will come a time when each of us will have to shout or beg in order for others to pay attention to us; possibly in our old age. So when an opportunity arises to make scores, or sometimes hundreds (and on the very rare occasion, thousands) of people sit quietly and listen to what we have to say, we should jump at it!

Between lecturing to my classes and giving public presentations, I speak so frequently these days that I wonder if it will ever become truly second nature and butterfly-free…. and the thought scares me. After all, I suspect that most of the fun is in being nervous. When something ceases to scare or excite you, that thing may not have much importance anymore. Savour the fear.

From an entrepreneurial point of view, I think public speaking is critical. It allows one to refine one’s message, refine one’s ability to defend a position and answer questions, and it necessarily results in a smoother conversational product, which reaps dividends in more intimate venues, like the boardroom.

From a marketing standpoint, a good profile as a public speaker not only allows your name (and the name of your business) to be broadcast to audiences in large batches, it establishes you as an expert in your field. And if not an expert, then at least someone with sufficient expertise to be able to communicate the content.

I’ve been asked to give lectures on topics in which I do not have truly deep expertise, such as Climate Change, global hunger and even lunar mining! At first, I balked at such opportunities, arguing to myself that there exist people better qualified to do the job. But then I realized that the quality needed by an audience isn’t so much content expertise –though a healthy and defensible familiarity with the content is mandatory! Rather, what is needed is the ability to marry sufficient expertise with style and fluidity of presentation. Thus, the world expert on a topic may not be the best equipped person to speak on that topic.

In essence, in the realm of public speaking, my skills as a storyteller are more marketable than any hard expertise I may have acquired in my various technical disciplines. A typical audience wishes first to be entertained, and then to be educated.

So if an opportunity to speak in front of a large group presents itself to you…. jump at it!