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Written by
Radosław Maziarka

Radosław Maziarka

Public speaking – 5 reasons why you should try it

I began my journey with public speaking over two years ago. Those first steps were easier than I expected. I want to share my feelings on why it’s worth setting out on your own public speaking journey in your company / community group / work team.

When I say “public speaking”, I don’t mean just standing on a stage and blabbing at people, but all sorts of activities like:

  • giving a presentation or lightning talk in your office
  • being a trainer during a workshop
  • presenting your ideas at a meeting to management
  • sharing your knowledge in a podcast or YouTube video

In other words, all kinds of situations when you are heard by a group of people listening only to you.

I have listed the advantages of public speaking in 5 points:

Self-confidence

Putting yourself on display in front of a large group of people can be stressful and leave you speechless. It is a really tough thing to do if you have no experience. You will find plenty of excuses not do it, and only a few reasons why you should. Especially when you are an introvert.

That said, speaking to people will increase your self-confidence and enhance your ability to persuade people to your ideas. It grows slowly, one speech at a time. But it grows. You get more practice, acquire fluency, more courage, and determination. You understand how to cope with pressure and a tough audience. How to express your thoughts in a way  people will understand.

And you find it helpful in other situations in your life – disputes with your boss, complaining about a defective product in a store, expressing yourself during a job interview, etc. In other words, all those times you to stand firm in your opinion. This is much easier to after you’ve got through some trials by fire, when your stress level increased but you remained calm.

It helps to start your journey in a friendly environment with people who won’t focus on minor details, and who will provide proper feedback after the talk. I remember my first lightning talk I gave at work, about Gulp pipeline. I was quite nervous about this speech. During the talk, I noticed I was shaking hard. I thought that it would be a disaster. As it turned out, people were listening closely to how this technology can solve their problems, focusing on value from the new framework and not on my nervousness. In the end, it turned out that the speech was a great success and friendly faces came to congratulate me on my first lightning talk. The lesson? Once you to take the first step to overcoming your primal fear, it gets much easier.

Knowledge sharing

Typically, the goal of public speaking is to share your knowledge with other people. You want to disseminate new ideas, thoughts, or a new perspective on some topic. Or maybe you just want to teach folks about technology they need to know because you’re working together on a project. In each of these situations, you enhance their wisdom and they acquire competence in the area you’ve discussed. They start working more efficiently. They find interesting ways of applying your ideas. Sometimes, nothing happens for a long time, then suddenly boom! – a moment of clarity transforms people’s minds.

Giving them broader insights has one more additional advantage. People have to understand an idea in order to support and justify it – without this knowledge, you won’t find allies to advocate for your choices.  You won’t introduce a better framework or library into the project. Models you know would be helpful will be rejected because people fail to grasp their value. Recommending the implementation of new technologies in your company requires that you have competent people around you.

For example, I’ve long been a big fan of LinqPad. To generate interest in this tool among people in my office and to convince the company to buy a license for it, I presented LinqPad in a lightning talk and then wrote a few use-cases demonstrating its applications. As people became more familiar with the tool, the company decided it should pay for it. Without the talk, my employer wouldn’t have seen the value in buying this tool.

Deeper learning

To be able to teach other people about something, you need deep knowledge about the subject. It’s easy to google some info and then use it, but it’s much harder to spread this knowledge to other people. Just look at Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning.

In order to teach other people you have to go higher up the learning ladder –  evaluating or defending some technology, comparing it to other possibilities, demonstrating it to end users. When preparing for a presentation you will master this knowledge by:

  • trying to answer questions that you assume someone will ask
  • thinking about connections to other technologies / models
  • developing arguments to defend your case
  • preparing demonstrations of how to use this technology in real use-case scenarios
  • and plenty more things

Chad Fowler (formerly Chief Technology Officer of Wunderlist, currently working for Microsoft), said at the DevDay conference he used writing a Programming Ruby book as an exercise to deepen his knowledge of the Ruby language. He wasn’t an expert, but he became one after completing the book.

In my case, my Azure Functions lighting talk and Angular training gave me opportunities to master these technologies and spread this knowledge around the company.

Become a tech leader

Public speaking gives you very good opportunities to demonstrate your knowledge in front of a group of people and persuade them to your ideas. For a few moments, your words are the only ones they are hearing and analyzing. You are proving that your idea or recommendation is so valuable it was worth sharing publicly.  This is the best way to get people’s attention and generate interest in your ideas.

Presenting yourself gives you the chance to prove your skills in a particular technology, respond to criticism, or provide counterarguments to common complaints. If you can answer people’s questions and provide high-quality responses, people will start trusting your opinions. They will perceive you as an expert in a particular topic / technology. They will ask for help when they run into problems or seek you out to discuss new ideas. Giving a presentation provides you an opportunity to find people who think just like you and who hold the same opinions and doubts. You will be more visible and more approachable to others, and definitely recognized as a professional in your field.

The process of becoming a tech leader won’t be finished after a single talk, but public speaking is one component of achieving this goal.

Increase your market value

When I was researching the subject of how to speak well to an audience, I found a remarkably simple but interesting and accurate equation for calculating your market value:

Your market value =

Knowledge & skills *

Ability to present your knowledge *

Contact network

Of course, it’s based only on one author’s experience, but I think it deserves a wider audience – let’s assume you score 8/10 in knowledge and 2/10 in presentation skills. Improving from 8 to 9 in knowledge is really hard and will only increase your value by 12%. At the same time, boosting your presentation skills from 2 to 3 will be much simpler and will lead to 50% greater market value.

The ability to sell yourself, your knowledge, your skills and competence is a crucial factor in being better heard in your team / company / market. Without it, people will bury your good ideas with their bad ones just because they are more experienced in presenting them. You won’t be visible in your current project, and as a result you won’t get promoted or moved to a better one. You could even become bitter that in spite of your high competence, you are always being overlooked during discussions or meetings.

So, expertise in a particular technology and spending more and more hours digging into the details of your framework won’t result in a better position on the labour market and a higher salary. At some point you also have to expand your public speaking skills to achieve greater results.

Two years ago, when I was getting my new project underway, I wanted to try Event Storming as a way to discover a new business domain. Unfortunately, I was so weak in selling this idea to my colleagues that we ultimately didn’t do it. I learned that having knowledge and selling it are two different things, and we need to develop ourselves in each of these areas at the same time.

Summary

I hope that my thoughts will inspire you to give public speaking a try, or at least think about it. Starting is hard, but once you get the ball rolling each new step comes easier and easier. A few years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself standing in front of hundreds of people without dying of a heart attack. This year, I did it at Programistok and it was great. If I can do it, you can too!

If you can think of any other advantages to developing your public speaking skills that I haven’t discussed in this post, please share them below. I’d love to hear your thoughts! 🙂

The post was initially published on radblog.pl blog.

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One thought in Comments

  1. Peter Brookes-Smith

    Thanks Radek for a really inspiring blog!

    I completely agree that the ability to express yourself clearly and then persuade others to your view (in an enlightened way) is an extremely valuable skill.

    The prospect of being on my feet and getting an easy question that I couldn’t answer would always drive me to try and know my topic more thoroughly.

    An additional benefit is the feeling of euphoria you get when you step down and know that you did the best you can and the audience were able to take some value from your efforts 🙂

    Reply

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