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How can public speaking skills improve my life?

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I used to dread public speaking and now I’m a professional speaker

Hi. And how can public speaking skills improve your life? I’m Shola and I’m a professional speaking coach and a speaker. And years ago, it was a friend of mine’s birthday. It was his 40th birthday, I believe and he didn’t tell me, but there were quite a few people at the party and he decided that he would go round the room and ask everybody to make a quick speech about how wonderful he was and why we were all there happy to celebrate his life. And when it came to my turn, oh my gosh. I remember sweating before it got to me, dreading. Oh, okay. Two people, one person, it’s me. And I felt awful because I had no public speaking skills. I absolutely hated having to speak up. And I remember literally I managed to burst out. I don’t know, a couple of words and lots of ums and ahs, being really, really embarrassed about what I said, because it just wasn’t up to scratch at all.

I decided to learn public speaking skills to overcome the anxiety I felt about speaking up

And so when people say, “Well, do I really need to learn this public speaking, why?” I totally understand how you feel because it’s a horrible feeling, especially if you’re not prepared to have all those eyes on you. And you’ve got to say a few words and you just disintegrate in front of people’s eyes, right? I’ve been there. Public speaking skills, however, aren’t incredibly useful. And I started out by going to Toastmasters International because I felt that I had to do something about my fear of speaking up. Even before this happened at my friend’s birthday, I had a corporate job and I was an account director. So I was supposed to be in meetings, advising clients. And in meetings I would not say a word because I was so anxious about speaking up and being heard. And that all came to head with me actually losing that job because they said that I wasn’t really earning my keep in the role. And I couldn’t argue because I wasn’t able to articulate myself in meetings, which was part of my job.

Contributing and sharing ideas by speaking in meetings is very important at work

So public speaking skills are very, very useful of course, in the workplace, because they will help you to share your ideas with others, which of course can then help you influence the people around you. And of course, demonstrate that you have value, that you’re adding value to your organization. And you might say, “Well, I can add value by writing. I’m a great writer. Or I prefer to share my ideas in writing.” And that’s brilliant if you have a workplace that is sympathetic to that. And, and they say, “Oh yeah, Sariah is fantastic at writing. You go and share your ideas in writing.” But quite often meetings are the place where decisions are made, where people are asked to chip in and make a contribution and share their ideas.

If you can’t speak up at work you may end up being sidelined

So if you’re not comfortable sharing your ideas and contributing in that environment, you will quite… It can happen that you can become someone who’s sidelined in the organization and seen as somebody who doesn’t have much of a contribution to make, because you’re seen as someone who isn’t really contributing in meetings. So it’s really important that you have those skills in place so that you can share. And of course, meetings tend to be more spontaneous sometimes. Sometimes you’re on the agenda. So we know that we’ve got to speak up. Others, people are asking for feedback and ideas, and we’ve got to come up with something and share our own feedback and our own contribution. So that can happen in meetings.

Lacking speaking skills can lead to loss of professional opportunities and increased stress

Of course, there are also formal situations where you might be asked to deliver a presentation or make a speech at a conference. And I know people who have come to me for coaching, who have said, “For years I’ve avoided having to speak at these conferences.” Or whenever someone has said to me, “Oh, well, we’ve got this company meeting coming up. Can you say a few words?” I will book my holiday to coincide with that meeting so that I don’t have to appear. I don’t have to speak up. So I know that for a lot of people, this is something that they have been coping with and trying to avoid for many years in their career. And some people are okay with continuing that. And others realize that this is having an impact on them in terms of their stress levels. It’s stopping them from progressing as they should through their organization. It’s stopping them from interviewing for the jobs that they should be interviewing for. And that it’s time for it to come to an end.

Public speaking skills also help you communicate better on video

But this is really about why public speaking skills are so important. So, I mean, I hope… Obviously there’s tons of reasons more. I mean, for example, speaking on video. Having the ability to do a bit of public speaking can quite often help you to be better on video. And as we know, people are making live videos all the time. At the moment as I record this, this is during the time of COVID-19. So people are on video, on Zoom and Teams and WebEx, because that’s the only way they can communicate with their colleagues at work. So public speaking skills feed into all of this, and it actually works backwards as well because sometimes the ability to speak on video can actually help you when you’re going out to speak in front of an in person audience. Certainly it helped me. Doing videos really helped me a lot with public speaking.

Developing these skills will help you achieve more

But I hope that with… I’ve just really spoken in three main areas, but I hope that that has really helped to convince you how important having public speaking skills can be. And having those skills can improve your confidence, it can improve your salary, your income, because you’re able to make more of a contribution. People see you as being more of a leader because you’re able to speak up and articulate your ideas. It might help me to become a better salesperson because perhaps you’re selling to groups. So those skills will help you perhaps to sell better. So the impact that public speaking skills can have on your life is really, really dramatic.

Start by surrounding yourself with likeminded people

So if you are thinking about whether or not you should jump in and take some public speaking classes, I definitely say, yes, you should. And Toastmasters is an excellent way to get going because there are other people like you who are perhaps not enjoying public speaking or a bit scared of it, or are just not really seeing the value and going along there will help you be with people like you. And also people who love speaking and who are very experienced at speaking.

You can work in groups or find a coach to help you individually

Other people don’t really want to join a group like Toastmasters. They may want to work with a coach one-to-one to get a bit of confidence before they speak to groups, whether they then go into a speaking club or whether it’s just about the speaking at work and whichever way you want to do it, it’s completely fine. But the most important thing is to not stop yourself and to move forward. And however you want to pick up those public speaking skills, go for it, and you’ll see how dramatically it can really, really change your life. That’s it from me. Thanks a lot for listening. Take care.

Shola Kaye is an award-winning speaker, author and professional speaker coach with clients around the world. Her work has been mentioned in Forbes, Harper’s Bazaar and on the BBC.
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