Public Speaking Is a Skill Anyone Can Develop

I was teaching presentation skills in China as part of a multi-day career development program for a Fortune 500 company.  One of the participants from Shanghai, let's call her "Li," had recently graduated from college with a degree in Accounting and now worked in the Finance Department.  

After I finished the morning session, Li came up to me and said, "Public speaking seems to come so easy for some people, but it doesn't for me.  My boss can just open his mouth and he makes sense – he's clear, organized and to the point.  I have to really work at it and still it seems so difficult."  

So I asked her, "What work do you do in the Finance Department?"

She replied, "I handle internal audits and financial controls for several cost centers in the company." 

"Do you find the work difficult?" 

"Not really," she replied.  "I really like it and I've always enjoyed working with numbers."  

"Do you find some of the tax calculations difficult?" I asked.  

 "No," she answered.  "They're complex, but I know how to understand them."  

"Sounds like it comes easy to you," I said, "but I'm sure there are plenty of people in this class and in the company who would find it extremely difficult to understand the subjects that you find so easy." 

"Ah…," she said as her eyes lit up, "I get it.  Finance comes easy for me while I have to work at public speaking, but other people who find public speaking easy might have to work really hard to understand the finance work that I find easy."

All of us have strengths, things that we can do successfully and effortlessly.  And to others who don't have those same strengths, it looks like we are doing magic – they can't imagine how we do it.  

It's important to remember that one person's strength is another person's struggle.  

So if you struggle with public speaking – don't despair.   Those who don't appear to struggle with public speaking probably struggle with some of the things that seem to come easily for you. (And by the way, many of them probably worked to overcome prior difficulties they had with public speaking; in fact, they probably continue to prepare and practice diligently, but you don’t see it – all you see is the final result and you assume it comes “naturally” to them.)

Public speaking is a skill.  While some people might be naturally more comfortable doing it, I believe that with the right training and practice, everyone can become a competent presenter.   And in all my years of experience, I've never met ANYONE who could not develop the skill of public speaking – if he or she practiced the right things in the right way (and it helps to have feedback from a coach).  Yes, that means you can, too. 

 And in the final class presentation in front of a panel of company executives, Li did just fine.

(C) Gilda Bonanno