Career Center Blog

February 21, 2013

Why you need to become a decent public speaker


You're at a funeral. Whom would you rather be: the person giving the eulogy or the person lying in the casket?

If -- like a lot of us -- you say you fear public speaking more than you fear death, then maybe you'd choose the casket.

Which means you may not appreciate the following advice: A large part of career success involves knowing how to speak in front of groups.

Why? Because speaking makes you visible. Speaking makes you memorable. What better way to shine at interviews, in meetings or on the factory floor than by expressing yourself clearly, confidently, coherently and concisely?

OK, that probably doesn't make you any less terrified at getting up in front of people and -- ulp! -- saying something.

Buck up. It's normal to be nervous about public speaking. So your first job is to just accept that, push it to the side and turn your thoughts to your audience. What are their concerns, their priorities? It will help to look at each person in turn and pretend you're talking to just that person. Most of all, let your enthusiasm show. (Enthusiasm is the best way to engage listeners.)

Here's another thought. Did you know that making a mistake -- stumbling over your words, forgetting a point -- can actually endear you to an audience? If you do err, smile, apologize and keep going. Most people are like you (i.e., they'd choose the casket), so they respect anyone who takes it on. Your audience is on your side! So just be your genuine, courteous, engaged, humble-but-knowledgeable self.

Speaking of knowledgeable, be sure you know, truly and deeply, what you are talking about. Nobody likes a BS'er. At the same time, keep it short and simple. Inundating people with mountains of data is not doing anybody any favors. Two or three key points are about all most audiences can absorb in one go.

Knowing how to articulate your thoughts to your fellow humans is an essential component of success no matter what field you're in. The key is practice. Good luck.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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