Enhance your career and avoid regrets

Business Insights

By Jon lam, Toastmasters International

To run your business effectively or to develop your career it is vital to be able to speak up. Keeping your mouth shut is not an option. As a shy person I have learned this the hard way having missed out on opportunities at work and in my personal life.

I discovered an excellent way to get myself out of my shell, and that was to take on the challenge of public speaking. If you are inclined to say ‘No thank you’ to this, let me share the reasons why you will look back with regret if you don’t speak up, and why you might be sold on the idea of taking this particular challenge yourself.

Hold back? Or advance?

In “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, the author Susan Caine says, “Extroverts are routinely chosen for leadership positions and introverts are looked over, even though introverts often deliver better outcomes.” This is because they are not considered as “leadership material”. The keyword here is “leadership”.

Although exceptional “introvert” leaders such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk exist, they have all communicated their ideas and values to the world and have led their workforce by speaking publicly. Hence, there is a strong case to develop your public speaking skills to get your peers to respond to and be inspired by your ideas. This in turn will help you to establish more credibility in the organisation and open yourself up to more career advancement opportunities.

It is no wonder that Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group stresses that “communication is the most important skill any leader can possess.”

Practice is key here so, even if you feel apprehensive about taking on a speaking or presentation opportunity at work, you should bite the bullet and go for it, as you will not only establish credibility in the workplace, but also find it becomes easier to speak publicly with practice.

Find common ground and connection

Finding common ground with others is often a crucial step to take when trying to build strong connections and make friends. Unless you meet someone, who is telepathic, you’ll most likely have to tell them of your interests and ideas. This is where public speaking comes in. I remember harnessing skills such as voice projection and good body language before raising my hand to talk at events. And after sharing my ideas and stories at these events, I opened opportunities for like-minded attendees to approach me and discuss my ideas. This has led to countless new friends I otherwise would not have made if I had not been brave enough to speak up at events and share my ideas in an engaging way.

It is good to keep in mind that when speaking at any event, that it is essential that you try to understand your audience and use effective techniques such as humour, if appropriate, to share your ideas. These techniques can be learned and if you put in the effort to do so, you will increase the chances of creating new connections with others who resonate with your engaging ideas.

Be unheard? Or be heard?

During such turbulent times, it is easy for your voice to get lost in the noise. As a Chinese person, I grew up in a culture where it was more important to ‘save face’ and maintain harmony than to speak out. However, whilst growing up, I realised that by staying silent, one will always remain unheard. With more and more environmental and social issues brought to light nowadays, it is important to first get educated, and then speak up about what you believe in. Only this will help bring about a change for the better.

Time for change

If you stay in your familiar comfort zone you will continue to miss out. Taking up the challenge of public speaking is a good way to start making changes. You will be seen as someone with greater leadership potential and your career options with be enhanced. If you want to build a better future for yourself, your business or for your community you need to overcome your nerves and practicing speaking in front of larger and larger groups. It is time to have your say and take the lead.


Jon Lam is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org