You can find trends reports and predictions from LinkedIn, Google, and even Mark Cuban that will tell you that “hard skills” will only get you so far in your career. But it’s “soft skills” like critical thinking, empathy, collaboration, and communication that organizations want in their new hires and leaders — and you’ll need them if you’re looking to get ahead.
Even though most people are familiar with the term “soft skills,” we prefer to join the growing group of researchers, professionals, and leaders who call them “power skills.”
Here are 10 ways that improving your public speaking sets you up with power skills that can advance your career.
1. Empowers you to speak up
We know you have great ideas, but how often are you sharing them?
Training in public speaking builds your confidence to speak up in other settings. Think of each speaking situation, whether you’re presenting in front of a live audience, leading a virtual meeting, or recording a training that will live on-demand, as a chance to build your resistance to stressful situations.
Eventually, you can take that “stress shield” with you into other situations. You’ll find it easier to ask the questions you know need to be asked, offer new approaches to old ways of working, and raise concerns to your leadership.
2. Trains you to receive feedback
People like to say they’re open to feedback, but as authors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen point out in their book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, getting feedback is hard.
Feedback challenges our self-perceptions and forces us to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes — whether they’re right or not. Lucky for us, receiving feedback well is a skill we can learn, and public speaking gives you a way to learn it.
Audiences give you feedback with their face, their body language, and even via post-event surveys, and then trained speaker coaches can help you make that feedback actionable. The more speaking you do, the better you get at receiving feedback.
3. Prepares you to “do more with less”
Rarely will someone say to you “We’d love for you to come and give a presentation to our group. Talk as long as you want!” There are always time limits and guidelines.
If you know anyone who has done quite a bit of public speaking or presenting, they’ll tell you that they’ve run into situations where their time was cut short at the last minute due to an over-programed agenda, an ill-prepared speaker who went overtime, or a tech issue. As the speaker, they still had a specific objective to accomplish in less time, and chances are they were able to do it.
Public speaking training teaches you how to accomplish more with less words and less time than you’d like, an ability that will serve you well when it comes time to manage shrinking budgets, work with limited resources, or speed-up project timelines.
4. Sharpens your critical thinking
There are different definitions for “critical thinking,” but we think of it as thoughtfully considering a situation.
It’s a skill many employers value, especially as you progress in your career, because it leads to better decision making and helps people overcome biases. Putting together a strong presentation requires critical thinking. Anytime you begin working on something like a talk, webinar, or training, you’re faced with a seemingly infinite amount of information that you could include.
You use your critical thinking skills to find evidence to support or reject your assumptions, to decide what’s credible and what’s not, and to make choices about what serves your audiences’ needs and what doesn’t.
Eventually, a critical thinking lens becomes your default, and you’ll approach other situations in your career with it.
5. Up-levels your strategic thinking
You’ll get even more out of your critical thinking skills when you pair it with strategic thinking.
Strategic thinking is a future-focused activity that considers the best ways to reach your goals. It’s a skill many leaders refine over the course of their career as they face new challenges and seek out uncharted opportunities.
You can up-level your strategic thinking skills with public speaking training. You’ll learn how your content, delivery, and visuals all have a role to play in helping to move your audience to a new belief, behavior, or feeling, but there’s never just one path to get to those ends.
You’ll make strategic decisions about how to best organize your content, how to adjust your delivery, and which visuals to use when, all with the goal of influencing your audience.
One way we’ve helped thousands of people improve their strategic thinking is with our DataStory workshop, which gives you the tools to help people accept your recommendations faster.
6. Expands your knowledge
One unexpected by-product of public speaking is that you start to learn about research, trends, and industries that are outside your expertise.
Sometimes that’s because you’re asked to speak to an audience with a different background from your own, so you go hunting for examples and data that would resonate with them. Other times, you may be very familiar with the audience, but you want to put a new spin on old information that they’ve heard before.
As someone who does a fair amount of public speaking herself, I put unique ideas I hear or read about in a running document so that I have one location to pull from in the future. Not only does it make my public speaking stronger, but it keeps me exposed to topics that might spark innovation in other areas of my career.
7. Builds your grit
For most people, public speaking is hard. It’s a vulnerable activity that combines many different skills and takes practice to improve.
Even your most extraverted speaker wasn’t born with inherent knowledge of how to combine content, delivery, and visuals to connect with an audience. Because of the focus it takes to improve your speaking skills, it could provide the right space to improve your overall grit.
In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, researcher Angela Duckworth explains the value of grit to our personal and professional lives. She offers “deliberate practice” as one way to build your grit muscles. You pick a goal, you give it your 100% concentration when you’re working on it, you receive feedback, and then you repeat the process.
To us, public speaking training sounds like a great grit-building ground.
8. Refines your presence
Public speakers know that it’s not just what you say, but it’s also how you say it that matters.
Your voice, your face, your posture, your hand movements—every one of them plays a role in how your audience interprets, responds to, and remembers your message. The awareness you gain from delivery skills training eventually transitions into other areas of your career.
You became conscious of how you avoid eye contact during conversations with your manager, and you’re able to correct it so you look more confident.
You realize how tired your voice sounds in the morning, so you add hand movements to boost your energy on 8:00am calls.
You notice when you’ve slipped into a slumped body posture while listening to the quarterly update, and you adjust so you don’t look as disengaged.
The more public speaking you do, the more value you’ll see from strong nonverbal communication.
9. Increases your visibility
Given how much people struggle with (and go to great lengths to avoid) public speaking, others in the workplace notice when some someone stands out as a strong presenter.
Strong speakers are often tapped to speak more, on topics both inside and outside their area of expertise. And with all the other benefits we’ve laid out above, strong speakers also have more opportunity to continue improving leadership skills.
The more you speak, the more people will see you, the more refined skills you’ll have, and then the more they will tap you to speak again. It’s a virtuous cycle!
10. Saves you preparation time in the long run
It’ll take a bit of heavy lifting to gain the foundation of public speaking. But like most skills, getting the basics down now will save you time in the long run.
Eventually, you’ll know how to connect with an audience more quickly, you’ll find your messaging coming together into a clear structure with less effort, and you’ll look and sound confident without having to try so hard.
Putting the work in now will make you more efficient and effective in the future, freeing up your time to work on other valuable projects and contribute to more of your organization’s goals.
Illustrated by Jonathan Valiente