The Single Most Important Skill for Any Career

Noooo…it’s not the ability to be Cheesy MC guy.

My son has signed me up to come speak to his marketing class on Friday. Not a big deal, I did it for his older brother a couple years ago.

A couple of the questions include, “What does it take to be successful in your career field? ” and “What can a student start doing now to prepare for this career?”, which got me thinking.

Since I find myself more or less on my third or fourth “career” I think I can say with some level of expertise that there IS a singular skill that has been crucial for success in ALL of them. The ability to communicate. No wait, let me communicate that more concisely.

The one skill that can help propel any career forward is the ability to speak publicly. Whether you have to communicate progress to a superior, impart information to a team of co-workers, or address a crowd of hundreds of customers you’re going to have to have some level of competence as a public speaker.

Why is it then that “public speaking” consistently ranks in the top 10 things people fear most? We speak in public all the time! Those who only speak in private are typically diagnosed as being crazy in some way shape or form…or they own lots of cats.

There are LOTS of ways to answer that question but rather than taking that on allow me to provide three reminders that can help anyone either being to conquer their fear or just become a better speaker.

1. It isn’t about you.
Even when you’re telling someone about you you’re providing that information for a reason. Job interview? Not about you. It’s about them trying to find the right person. Selling a product? Not about you. It’s about them trying to solve a problem or meet a need. Speaking to a marketing class about your career? Not about you. It’s about helping them make choices about their future.

When you think about it in this way the pressure is off of you and on the information. When you realize it is about helping the audience get the information they need you can focus on the information and not worry about what they think of YOU.

2. Honesty IS the best policy.
If you’re being asked to present information to an audience there is an underlying assumption that you: a)know what you’re talking about and b) know more about it than the audience does.

If either of those statements is false admit it up front. You’ll either be let off the hook OR you’ll be given more information that may help shed light on the fact that you do INDEED know what you’re talking about.

In either case faking it is a bad idea.

3. Public speaking is a skill.
And like any other skill it needs to be practiced and polished. Even the most artful public communicators don’t just hop up and wing it every time. Even guys that seem to make it ALL up as they go, aka Robin Williams, have bits they practice and rehearse that keep them grounded in their skills.

Don’t think the way to overcome fear of public speaking, or to become a better communicator, is to merely avoid it or to get psyched up for it with a lot of coffee when forced into having to speak. Investing time in training and practice will pay off throughout every stage of your career, no matter what field.

Some of today’s headline politicians were rocketed into the limelight on the strength of a single speech. No matter which side of the political fence you’re on, even if you tend to straddle it, you can’t deny the power of being a good public communicator.

If you want to start honing your craft I CAN recommend an excellent opportunity coming up in October. Check out the SCORRE Conference.

In the meantime though…what is it about public speaking that causes you the most anxiety?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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5 thoughts on “The Single Most Important Skill for Any Career

  1. It’s the fear of stumbling through my words that causes me anxiety. I tend to overthink and forget where I’m at. This causes me to stumble through words and areas that shouldn’t have been a problem.

    • Which always makes me wonder why. I’d bet you don’t stumble over words in regular conversation, well not anywhere to the same degree at least. 🙂
      Typically what happens is an internal commentary that goes something like: “If I stumble over words people will think I am…”
      But remember, it isn’t about you. You’re the expert. Just tell ’em.

  2. Used to teach speech classes at a community college, and teaching students to be organized and prepared was a key component of getting them past the fear of public speaking. I wrote a post on this topic titled “How to… Struggle through the Fear of Public Speaking,” because I too think it’s something with which a lot of people struggle. Also, just today, I posted “How to… Reduce Email Overload and Frustration” and partially focused on the importance of effective communication via email. You make some terrific points too!