Speak Your Way to the Top:
Busting Seven Speaking Myths
By Suzanne Bates
is the single most important factor in everyone’s career.
You may have all the potential in the world to become a leader in
your field. Perhaps your career feels stalled by forces that seem
beyond your control. Or perhaps you managed to skyrocket through the
ranks of your organization on your business and technical skills.
After all, anyone who’s smart can see you have an enormous amount of
value to add. But as you climb higher, no one will recognize you as a
leader unless you can express your ideas, demonstrating the value you
bring to the team.
in your career, you must speak. You must learn how to give good formal
and informal presentations, how to lead a meeting, how to build
relationships with colleagues and clients, and how to optimally
articulate your strategies. If you’re skeptical that speaking can
get you the recognition that leads to advancement, or you’re
terrified at the prospect of speaking, you may have bought into common
myths about speaking. See if you recognize any of these false beliefs
and then look at the realities of speaking your way to the top.
Myth #1: I’ve never been
at speaking. The truth is, even the greatest orators were not born with innate speaking skills. Everyone must
to speak well. And despite what you might think, extroverts have no
advantage over introverts. Each personality type brings some natural
skills to speaking. Extroverts may love to get up in front of people,
but they tend to under-prepare and therefore deliver weak, rambling
messages. Introverts, on the other hand, spend all their time preparing, but they hate having an audience’s
attention focused on them. Like learning how to tie your shoes or to
solve algebra problems, speaking requires a skill set you must learn.
Myth #2: If I just work really hard, someone is bound to notice. Unless
your boss is Ebeneezer Scrooge, chaining yourself to your desk and
keeping your head down is not a good strategy for advancing your
career. When you do that, you’re simply not visible: to your boss,
to others you report to, to your colleagues, or to the people who
report to you. So no one perceives you as effective. Of course you
want and need to be productive, but you also want others to view you
as a contributor, and that means speaking, formally and informally.
Your regular, well-prepared communication with everyone you work with
will make you highly visible, and before long everyone will see you as
a real asset and potential star within the organization.
Myth #3: My silence is respectful. In business, people perceive
polite silence as being too
quiet, as if you have nothing to say. If no one on the team knows
anything about you or your ideas, or what value you bring to the team,
even if you’re very smart and talented, you won’t be promoted.
Start thinking through your strategic view and write it down. Then
practice it so that you’re prepared to present and discuss your
views in meetings with your boss and other colleagues. When two people
of equal value are in competition for a promotion, the one who can
articulate the strategy and value will always get it.
Myth #4: There are no opportunities for me to speak. You might feel
as if you would put a lot of thought and work into a big presentation
if one came your way, but you need to seek out those opportunities,
big and small, and even create them if necessary. Remember that those
senior to you judge you every day, assessing whether you have the
right stuff to be a leader in the organization. When you begin
speaking, you are, as James Hume says, “auditioning for
leadership,” and with experience you’ll get better every time. So
start with low-key, friendly audiences, like Toastmasters clubs, or
offer to make a small brown bag presentation within your company or to
your department. Volunteer to lead meetings. Whatever you decide to
try, get started!
Myth #5: I don’t have time to prepare; I’ll just wing it. Speaking
with confidence and in a way that adds value is essential to your
career success. Your presentation must have both content and style, so
your delivery must be relaxed and confident. The only way to achieve
that is to spend a lot of time preparing for any formal or informal
presentation. As that wise person Anonymous said, “The best way to
look like you know what you’re talking about is to know what
you’re talking about.” So clear your calendar as much as you can
and put in the time to prepare.
Myth #6: If my PowerPoint is great, my presentation will amaze them. Preparation
means more than untold hours putting together a killer slide show.
Forget about the slides; if you outline some great, powerful ideas to
speak about, place yourself in a room alone, and practice out loud, on
your feet, you’re going to do well. Practicing like this is the
single most important thing you can do to become a better speaker. No
one cares about your slides anyway, and they definitely don’t want
to listen to you reading aloud from the slides.
Myth #7: My utter terror is a sign I shouldn’t be speaking. Don’t
mistake anxiety about speaking for an inability to speak. Although
your apprehension may feel overwhelming, it is directly related to
under-preparation. Like 98% of people, your nerves are your body’s
way of telling you that you’re not ready to speak yet; you haven’t
put in enough time writing, preparing, or practicing. Rather than
letting it debilitate you, use
your anxiety to mobilize you to take action, to drive you to get on
your feet and practice. If you do, when you are in front of the
audience, the hard work will be over, and you’ll experience how much
fun you can have delivering the speech.
You’re As Good As You Decide To Be! Though certainly prevalent,
none of these common myths about speaking are true. Anyone, including
can become a great speaker if you’re motivated to advance your
career and willing to put in the time.
make a presentation, you will see immediate results. You may not
receive a huge promotion after you speak just once, but speaking never
fails to have a significant impact on careers. Every time you
speak, you will create “buzz” about you, as people discuss what a
great contributor you are and how much value you add to the
organization. Senior management will recognize you for your
confidence, initiative, and good ideas, and they will find ways to
reward those qualities appropriately.
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about Suzanne Bates.
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