Former US presidential speechwriter James Humes once said, “Whenever you have to speak, you audition for leadership.”
While Humes’ words come from his work with American presidents, his thinking can be applied to any situation where we are required to speak professionally.
Whether it’s a presentation, a pitch, an annual general meeting, a board meeting, a team discussion, a networking event or even a n a job interview, our ability to command an audience can have a transformative effect, so it’s no surprise that studies published by Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and McKinsey consistently rank communication as an essential skill.
A fear of speaking
The challenge with all forms of work-related speech is that we can feel nervous and unsure of what to say, how to say it, and worry about how our message is being received.
The irony is that most of us who feel this are great at what we do, but our knowledge is eroded by our inability to communicate effectively. This can hinder career progression and promotion, lead to misunderstandings and mental health issues.
I can intimately relate to these challenges having lived with a stutter for as long as I can remember. For most of my life, I struggled to express myself. Throughout school I was teased for my sound, and in college I was kicked out of group homework because I was considered incompetent. This continued bullying fueled my insecurities around speaking.
As a result, I wore a facade throughout my professional career. For my first corporate position, I joined the commercial fit-out industry where my position focused on business development – networking, presentations, meetings and phone calls – which required strong communication skills. I was also expected to build a work pipeline and consistently win business.
My well-presented facade carried me for a while, but eventually the expectations of my role caught up with me. I avoided networking; I was always nervous in meetings; I was afraid to telephone in front of my colleagues; I avoided introductions and was never sure to speak with my manager. All of this affected my mental health and as a result, I failed to achieve my goals and meet the expectations of my role.
A critical skill
As my career progressed, I realized how important communication was and that I needed to talk about it. Recognizing the benefits of being an effective communicator, I learned to speak on my own and developed unconventional strategies to control my stuttering. It gave me confidence, so I challenged myself to try public speaking to test my fluency. After many (unsuccessful) attempts at introductions, I became obsessed! I started watching presenters, analyzing TED talks, imagining ideas and creating communication models. As I honed my public speaking, I learned about storytelling and its vital role in connecting, engaging and leading people.
For example, there is a strategy for speaking formally at a conference, as there is for presenting a 5-minute investment pitch. There is an approach to creating and delivering a “What are you doing?” message. of 60 seconds. lift. There is a process for designing and delivering a client presentation, or even a TED talk.
There are strategies for job interviews, roundtables, virtual presentations, podcasts, radio and television interviews, and creating video content for social media, and ALL of these strategies stem from the development of our ability to speak in public. I have documented over 150 verbal and non-verbal techniques that can be applied to strengthen our communication skills in all of these areas.
Redefining public speaking
The more I understood public speaking, the more I recognized that it was more than speaking on a stage – and it’s time to redefine what public speaking is.
Public speaking fosters better meetings, allows us to connect better at networking events, build strong relationships, inspire and motivate teams, resolve conflict, and excel in business development. It’s an essential skill for any role, in any industry and a great way to build credibility, build trust and cement authority.
Public speaking is speaking in front of others in any capacity.
Public speaking and technology
The problem is not only the fear of speaking in front of others. It’s about acknowledging our insecurities and realizing our ability to be great.
Chatterbox’s goal is to provide a solution to the fear of public speaking (in this redefined form) through coaching programs, strategy workshops, presentations, and online educational content.
Additionally, Chatterbox has developed its own virtual reality technology, to boost our confidence in presenting to a live audience. This is complemented by the latest artificial intelligence where, using self-detected learning, feedback on presentations is obtained through the analysis of metrics such as jargon, language and structure. The ability to speak in front of others can increase our influence, build our reputation and advance our careers, and public speaking should no longer be considered a “soft skill”. Instead, it should be recognized as an essential and highly rewarding business skill.