In every communications director post I've ever had, I saw myself as a behind-the-scenes person, a strategist and advisor. And in every one of those posts, my image was the opposite: Fellow executives described me as the out-front person, and made all sorts of assumptions about my public speaking and presenting skills. It felt as if those bars were set higher for me. No one would expect the finance director or the head of operations to hit one out of the park in a presentation, but the communications pro? Had to be excellent.
No wonder I get puzzled queries from communications pros about public speaking, many at my blog The Eloquent Woman or in the training sessions I conduct across the country. They're apologetic, or defensive, or just confused. "Shouldn't I already know how to present? After all, I'm a communicator," or "Why don't I feel more confident about speaking? Shouldn't I be a natural at it?" or "It's too late now--I've been doing this for years." And while they might create a budget to provide such training for other executives, rarely do they pay for their own coaching or training.
Here's the truth: Just as you weren't born a writer or strategist, you weren't born a great public speaker or presenter. It's a skill we give short shrift to in the business world. Plenty of people give presentations, but few are taught how--or what they could do better. If the skills are learned at all in a formal setting, they're rarely updated for new technologies or best practices, even though the art of presenting has moved light years from what you may have started out with. And just like others, you might be an introvert who needs a different approach to presenting, or a young executive who needs to establish credibility, or a seasoned pro who's picked up some bad habits and needs to unlearn them.
Being a communications pro doesn't mean you're perfect, after all. In fact, I've seen communicators so used to putting their experts out in front that they stumbled when they had to do the honors at a speech, presentation or media interview. Maybe that's too comfortable a position for those of us working "behind the scenes."
Professional development opportunities--good ones--get harder and harder to find as you advance in any field, and that's true in communications as well. Over time, I've found that the skills I've developed in public speaking and presenting are the ones I use every day, just as much as I use that other skill we spend so much time developing, writing. They work at networking events, in one-on-one conversations, in speeches and presentations, when I have to give impromptu remarks or introduce someone--or just explain what it is I do. And if you believe, as some do, that we'll all be entrepreneurs and free agents at some point, take it from me: Presenting well and with confidence will make your business thrive.
These days, I offer training in media interview skills, public speaking and presenting, among other services, and I'm happy to tailor communications training for communicators. While you're scheduling training for your experts and fellow executives, maybe it's time to put some on the schedule for yourself. You can choose to customize that training, by the way. Ask me about a session that gets at your weak spots, prepares you for a bigger audience or a different presenting task, or gets you ready for your next professional move. I've been there, myself, and I'd be happy to help you. Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com to find out how we can work together on your presentation skills.
On May 15, I'll be convening another session of Be The Eloquent Woman in Washington, DC. It's a subversive new workshop that helps women executives and public officials learn how women speakers are perceived and how to turn those expectations on their heads with confidence, content and credibility. Go here to read how the first workshop went and what participants had to say.