Public speaking is probably something you’ve had to do since you were a kid, even if you didn’t like it then and still don’t like it now. You might remember having to read out loud to your class in grammar school or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It either filled you with anxiety or you couldn’t wait for your turn.
As you enter the workforce, you’ll find there’s no consigning public speaking to the list of things grown-ups once made you do that you’re now free to abandon. But that doesn’t mean people early in their careers always embrace the challenge whole-heartedly–even though they really should. Here’s why it’s so important to hone your speaking skills from your entry-level years onward.
It’s How You’ll Get Heard
Your first job or two may not present you with tons of opportunities to get on stage and address a huge crowd, but don’t discount the smaller occasions in the meantime. You might be thrust into role-playing exercises at the drop of a dime or placed on committees where you have to present an idea to your colleagues. It’s crucial to make these moments count, since they’re among the first opportunities you’ll have to make your voice heard.
There was a time in my career when I was deathly afraid to speak in public, yet as a young woman in business, I knew public speaking was a skill set that I had to force myself to get comfortable doing. Part of having a seat at the table is being able to advocate for yourself and others, and it’s hard to support anyone–least of all yourself–if you’re afraid of speaking up.
So before long, I forced myself to take an improv class to help me get comfortable being uncomfortable. If I learned anything in those six weeks, it was these two lessons:
- It’s possible to work through any failure, even the most demoralizing.
- Practice really does make perfect.
Resources like Toastmasters or workshops such as Own the Room can also help you perfect your craft. But however you choose to practice, make sure you start early. It’ll help you convey your point of view at work even when you don’t have a lot of power.
It Will Boost Your Credibility
I recently heard speaker and leadership coach Cheryl Wood point out on The Trailblazers podcast that public speaking isn’t about talking–anyone can talk! Learning how to articulate your message clearly and concisely is the real challenge. Ever listen to a long-winded boss or colleague who loved the sound of their own voice? Chances are it’s harder to take them as seriously as you would if they got straight to the point.
Your credibility doesn’t come entirely from your job title–it’s also about how you communicate, including among your own peers. Delivering a clear message is a fundamental leadership skill you can (and should!) start flexing well before you’re actually a leader–whether it’s in one-on-one conversations or at team meanings. It’s what lets you take control of your ideas and turn what you say into a central part of your personal brand. If your audience doesn’t understand what you think, it’s hard to earn their support for it.
It Can Prepare You For Leadership Earlier
Finally, honing your public speaking skills earlier lets you position yourself for higher-level roles earlier, too. If you aspire toward a leadership position, you’ll need to be inspiring, persuasive, and confident to others. By enhancing your communication skills now, you’ll be more polished when those leadership opportunities arise. You don’t want to miss out on them simply because you’re unprepared.
None of this means you need to fall in love with public speaking. But flexing a muscle you didn’t know you had is arguably easier to when you’re younger than later on, when you might be more set in your ways. Even if you don’t ever want to ascend to a leadership role, public speaking is still critical to your career. No matter who they are, everyone needs to communicate powerfully–not just later on but right now.
Minda Harts is the founder of The Memo, LLC, a subscription career development platform that helps women of color prepare for a seat at the table with education, community, and access. The Memo also conducts career workshops to help Fortune 500 companies enhance their diversity and inclusion initiatives.