The Public Speaking Imperative: From Getting a Job to the C-Suite to the Gig Economy...Why Public Speaking is a Crucial Career-Spanning Skill

Posted in: Careers, Communication, Leadership, Skills, Presentations, Talent Development, Public Speaking | February 15, 2016 at 8:09 AM
Comments are closed

DSC_3739_copy_ps-_3.jpgBy Kim Cole, Cofounder of The Sales Zone


Glamour Magazine featured a piece in its November 2015 issue by Jennifer B. Wallace entitled, "The #1 Skill You Need at Work". I had the opportunity to be quoted in the piece which you can read here; as you may have guessed, the skill discussed in the article is public speaking.

What stands out in Jennifer's piece is the fact that, according to a study done by researchers at Harvard, many people would rather endure an electric shock than do a presentation or make a speech! In order to get ahead, however, you don't have the choice of being wounded over giving a speech in public--now more than ever it's important to do away with your public speaking paranoia.

According to Merrium-Webster public speaking is defined as:

  • the act or process of making speeches in public; or
  • the art of effective oral communication with an audience

Thinking of these definitions, you might get a visual of Steve Jobs or the presenter in your favorite TED Talk. The reality is that YOU must develop and practice public speaking skills because they are crucial at every stage of your career. We are working in an era where public speaking skills have taken on heightened importance because of innovations in technology. The following graphic illustrates some of these technolgy innovations:




Whether you are new to the workforce or have not had to interview in the last few years, here's a newsflash: your interviewing experience may be very different than you are expecting it to be. Gone are the days when getting a job entailed putting your resume together, getting dressed up and heading off to an interview to sell yourself to a prospective employer.

Aside from the often-required "final presentation", there are some new additions to the interview process about which you should be aware. Companies like HireVue work with organizations to help create streamlined interviewing processes via video. The concept is "record once, view many times", thus enabling an entire interviewing team to check out your skills and experience before an in-person interview.

Think of an on-demand interview as an audition tape. You want to make sure that your performance allows you to go to the next level in the interview process. The key skill in helping you accomplish that feat is public speaking (along with knowing how to look at the camera on your computer and pretend you're talking to a person!). One of our clients uses HireVue so I volunteered to do an on-demand interview. I recorded my answer using the video camera on my laptop. You can also use a mobile device.


Everyone has attended webinars; sales people--particularly those in technology sales--are accustomed to conducting presentations or demonstrations using web-based technologies. Without a live audience you can actually see, it's difficult to gauge the reactions of a virtual audience. Acquiring the skills needed to moderate online discussions for your webinar is an important facilitation skill.

Every sales call and every client interaction revolves around some measure of communication. Each circumstance requires the use of the public speaking package needed to excel in our technology-driven, knowledge-based economy.


Welcome to the corner office. Here's your mic. 

Arriving in the corner office means you have no choice in the matter: you must use the bully pulpit in order to keep your job, and it's the primary way you will grow your success profile. From communicating with your employees in the most effective way possible (think employee engagement scores and transparency), to communicating with industry analysts, appearing on television, and being interviewed on podcasts and radio, public speaking is crucial for senior leaders.


Many people are involved in non-profits including professional associations or cause-related organizations. If you are working in a field about which you care deeply or in which you want to excel, more than likely you have an opinion that you want to express. If you are a memeber of a professional association you may be asked to make a speech, lead a break-out session, or facilitate a discussion. All of these scenarios require public speaking capabilities.

The Gig Economy is turning heads and the Public Speaking Imperative plays into it in many ways. YouTube, Vimeo, and podcasts are relevant in the traditional conomy, but are often more highly leveraged in the Gig Economy. And now there's Periscope, a live video platform that enables you to stream and record videos in real time as well as view anyone from anywhere in the world (if you haven't heard of Periscope, download the app and experimient with it by following someone or something that interests you). With Periscope you don't have to wait to be tapped by the potentates in your profession, you can start 'scoping anytime you want about anything you want. Like all social platforms, building and managing your followership is important to making Periscope work for you. You can 'scope from a conference or trade show, a training session or a keynote address, or from your favorite city or national park. If you have a side gig (or if your side gig is your main gig) you can 'scope about that. You get the idea.


After reading about this dizzying array of technology-enabled platforms that now require you to perform like Steve Jobs or a TED Talk presenter, you are probably asking yourself how you can obtain or improve your public speaking skills. I have been engaged with Communispond for many years (full disclosure, they are a client). Communispond has excellent B2B solutions as well as seminars and online programs that will give you the inside advantage on the skills you need to excel in the modern era. Communispond asserts that businesses flourish when employees can clearly communicate about their company regardless of the venue. Jeanie Bress, senior vice president at Communispond says, "associates are the voice and the face of a business. By developing their talent--their uniquely human ability to communicate--organizations will flourish in the digital age." Check out Communispond's website (linked above) and the company's YouTube channel linked here.

Toastmaster's has been around since 1924. For more than 90 years, this not-for-profit organization has been helping people improve their communication skills "in all circumstances." Click here for their YouTube video which highlights their top five tips for giving presentations.

So much has been written about TED Talks--the most watched talks, how to prepare to give one, and the lessons learned from TED Talks that you can apply in your own presentations. In his article for Harvard Business Review, TED's founder Chris Anderson takes the position that even the most unlikely people can be taught how to give a TED Talk. His substantive and heartwarming article about a thirteen year-old from Kenya proves his point (click here to read his article and to watch the TED Talk given by this exceptional young man).

Carmine Gallo watched 150 hours of TED Talks, interviewed presenters, and talked with neuroscientists about the ingredients found in a compelling presentation. We can all learn from the three key findings in his piece for HBR.


Our knowledge-driven, social media-fed, content-mad economy is driving innovation that is fueling the Public Speaking Imperative. The good news is that there are resources to help you improve your skills. More good news: there are so many platforms for public speaking--from live presentations to webinars to Periscope--that you can find the one that best fits your business and personal needs to hone your skills and practice before moving onto mastering another one.

The bottom line: You need to embrace the Public Speaking Imperative. Your career depends on it.