Leadership English: Talk about what you know about

Effective communication means money in the bank.

WASHINGTON, September 10, 2012 – At a BNI meeting I attended recently, one of the points made was that if you know your stuff you’ll automatically have the confidence and ability to present it successfully. No argument there. Everybody pretty much agreed with that assertion. 

But why did people confide to me later that giving a 45-second presentation, much less a 10-minute talk put them in a major panic? 

Theoretically, if you know your subject, you shouldn’t have a problem, right? 

Yet why are so many people at a loss when they stand up in front of a group? Why are they unable to explain what they do and how they do it—even if they do it superbly?


“Dammit, Jim! I’m an engineer, not a …!”

How many engineers—brilliant engineers—do you know who can’t get their points across at client demos? Or scientists who don’t know how to explain their amazing research results to an eager public? Even otherwise articulate business people, when asked to participate in a panel discussion at a convention, don’t always function as effectively as their audiences would like them to.

Engineers and other career professionals may have been educated superbly in their chosen fields. They have plenty of experience to back up anything they might want to say. They’re confident and knowledgeable on the job. Despite all their knowledge, however, there’s one thing they don’t know. They simply fail in communicating. And a failure to communicate is a failure to contribute. 

Furthermore, a lack of presentation skills can undermine a perfectly good ego. (Not the inflated kind that’s insufferable and irredeemable). An empty presentation skill toolkit can raise self-doubt in those who are otherwise professionally competent, causing them to underestimate their knowledge and skills and the value of their work to the world as well.

It may not occur to highly trained career pros that they need professional communication skills to cohabit with their professional knowledge.


Illogical and sad, but true

Many students targeted as gifted or advanced in school are also exempted from having to take standard writing and communications courses. That practice has continued for several generations of students. Making matters worse, it’s the rare professional or former business or tech major today who voluntarily seeks out speaking and writing courses as an adult. 

After all, if I didn’t have to learn that stuff at school, one reasons, that means I already knew it then, right? I’m an expert. I already know this stuff. And anyway, those “simple” classes are for unemployable drama majors, right? Right?


Professional Communication Reveals Professional Competency

What students and new career professionals don’t realize is that the newbies (unless, a-hem, they have preternaturally advanced communication skills) aren’t the ones sent to give the high-prestige talks and papers at high-profile professional events. Those who become truly competent in their areas of expertise end up spending years communicating what they know and teaching what they learn.

Their high-power activity translates into decades of writing and speaking, with compensation and promotions commensurate with their ability to lead and influence using communication skills. And people are grateful to listen to them and glad to pay them.

If you have any ambition at all, it’s not worth the hassle and inconvenience of being an incompetent writer or speaker for your entire career. In fact it’s a self-imposed roadblock that’s more than inefficient. It’s financially unfeasible. And finally, you end up looking like an idiot, even if you’re not.

Next: Do you have good or bad anxiety when you speak? How to tell the difference.


Keywords: Leadership English, Fran Ponick, communication skills, professional skills, professional knowledge, business presentation




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Frances Ponick

Fran Ponick is a speaker, author, commentator, teacher, and coach. She has decades of experience in technical, business, marketing, and proposal writing and editing, and has won awards in journalism, formal poetry, and acting. She has also served as a consultant to DoD. Her book, Only Angels Can Wing It: How to Prepare a Eulogy Quickly and Present It Compassionately, is available from Amazon.com.


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