By Jon lam, Toastmasters International
Sitting at the back of the classroom, I cowered from the wandering gaze of the teacher. “Who hasn’t spoken yet?” she repeated. It was a project presentation day at school and everyone in my class had already presented. Everyone, except for me. I held my breath and winced further behind my classmates, hoping that I would not be called upon…
Those days of hiding at the back of the classroom still linger in my memories now, and as a shy person, I have never felt a real need to open my mouth (aside from eating). But after missing out on countless opportunities in my personal and professional life by keeping my mouth shut, I realised that I needed to start opening it more. As the saying by Mahatma Gandhi goes, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get it.” This does not mean that you will always get the world by asking for it since being heard and listened to requires excellent communication skills.
And one way I discovered to help with improving my communication skills is to take the leap of faith into the world of public speaking. If you are a reluctant speaker like me, read on to find out why you will regret keeping your mouth shut and not exploring public speaking.
You might be missing out on career advancement opportunities
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”, emphasises 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 organisation’; ‘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 organisation 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.
You will miss out on finding connections with others
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.
You will remain unheard
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.
Step out of your comfort zone
It is easy and comfortable to sit back and listen. But I learned that if I had remained in my comfort zone, I would have missed out on many opportunities in life. By stepping out of your comfort zone and taking on public speaking, you will increase the chances of excelling in leadership positions at work, and thus improving your overall employability. Furthermore, you will build more connections with others, and make a real change in society. Only through consistent practice will you find that you lose the nervous jitters of speaking in front of a large audience and feel your confidence grow. Although it may be comfortable to continue whispering, it is now your time to step up onto the stage and roar.
Jon Lam is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation 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 www.toastmasters.org