The importance of public speaking

What is your greatest fear? Some people are afraid of dogs, some people are scared of spiders, but we are fearful of public speaking for most people. We are constantly worried about being judged by others and being laughed at by others. However, I am taking a class to learn public speaking because I understand the benefit of it. It is an important skill to master, and it has an impact on three levels: personal, professional and societal.

I almost forgot my fear of public speaking until I saw a girl cry in front of me. The moment is so memorable because I can visualise her fear. When the teacher asked the girl to practice talking about a topic, she could not even speak a word. She is a hard-working girl who attended lots of tuition classes. She is also an ambitious person who wants to become a diplomatic translator one day. She is competent and physically able to talk, yet she could not start even a word.

I feel empathy. I could understand the fear, but there was nothing I could do to help. The girl’s mother was sitting next to her, urging her to speak. At first, she started videoing her lovely daughter with her phone camera. She wants to be proud of her daughter with high expectations that her daughter would perform well in front of others. Later on, the mother lost her patient, and it was at that moment, the daughter’s tears started to drop. The longer the time wait, the greater the pressure the daughter built up herself. Is there anything that we could do to help? Let me try to share my own experience to overcome this fear.

On a personal level, public speaking can help personal branding and give yourself visibility to the public. I am an introvert who prefers to be solitary instead of talking in front of people. And I am sure you would share the same experience in class: a teacher finished a lecture, ask if anyone has any questions? The answer is: silent. The quietness is especially true in Asia schools. No one would raise their hands in class to ask. Not because they have no questions, but it is because of fear of asking stupid questions. I remember a quote: “If you ask a question, you may look like a fool for five minutes, but if you never ask the question, you may be a fool forever, for the next five years without knowing the answer”. Being able to stand up, speak up and dare to ask. It boosts your confidence and leaves a good impression on your teacher. The visibility you got gives you an edge in school and life.

On a professional level, public speaking is crucial for us to communicate. My job title is Engineering Manager. What does a manager do? My main job as a manager is to communicate. Not the best programmer to write codes, but the best person who could talk to the team, motivate the team members to perform better, write reports and verbal updates to senior executives, and present and impress the clients. Last week I demonstrated my company’s product in front of the CEO of a digital bank and seventy people in the audience. I showcase how easy it is to use our product to open a bank account and transfer money. I tried to use visuals, ask questions and inject humour to capture their attention. As a result, it was a successful presentation with much positive feedback. Mastering the skills of public speaking is a must for my job.

On a societal level, public speaking could help to make a change in society. No matter the organisation you join, such as the Red Cross, boy scout or animal care, etc., a shared vision with a key message that is so important to tell other people. You can be an ambassador of your organisation. For example, if you care so much about climate change, look at Bill Gates writing a book to talk about it; look at Greta Thunberg, an 18-year-old activist from Sweden, to advocate it. Even the famous actor Leonardo DiCaprio gave a speech to ask us to take action and stop climate change. Being able to speak lets you deliver critical messages to the public and make a change.

Overall, I may not be the best public speaker in the world. I am just an ordinary person who has an interest in public speaking. I may not inspire the crying girl, but I wish her not to lose interest in learning. It is a lifelong journey to sharpen our skills and achieve our dreams. I hope the crying girl is not giving up because of the fear of the audience and pressure from her mother. Because public speaking opens opportunities for her at all levels: personal, professional and societal, if the times did not come, we could even create opportunities for ourselves and others. It is the power of public speaking.

By Victor Leung

Experience in software development, consulting services and technical product management. Understanding of business and technology with an MBA in Finance and a Master degree in Computer Science. AWS Certified Solution Architect with experience in building products from scratch and serving as a charismatic leader.

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