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The Power of Presenting
From Career Tips, 2020 Volume 6, June 2020
Opening line in "Happiness"
from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown
It was early in my Sophomore year at Stanford. Paul Groves wanted to put on a play in our dorm, and asked me to take a part. "Memorize lines to present to an audience - no way!" I thought. But Paul was persistent, and I relented. I found myself cast as Sir Studly in Once Upon a Mattress. (Type casting, of course!) I had 10 lines, and sang in all of the chorus scenes.
To my surprise, I loved doing it. I went on to be Henry, a 10 year old boy in Finian's Rainbow, the mayor in Bye, Bye Birdie, the captain of the ship in Anything Goes, and Lt. Brannigan in Guys and Dolls. And I did a small amount of performing in a local theater group in NYC for a few years after graduation. ("Happiness" was one of my last performances, in a song and dance class there.)
Now, I can't claim to be a great actor, as my brother could attest to after making the mistake of casting me and my father in a short film he made for his PhD program at USC. But my experience with acting made a huge difference in my career, and I owe Paul a big debt of gratitude.
You might assume that I took to the stage because I'm a natural extrovert. That would be wrong.
I grew up as a classic introvert. I was a Math geek, and went into a profession (actuarial work) not known for a preponderance of either outgoing personalities or strong communicators. But tackling my fear of presenting head-on helped me stand out among other actuaries, and opened up many opportunities over time.
Ultimately, it has led me down a path where I present to audiences all the time, and love it. I think nothing of speaking to large groups. Sure, I can get a bit nervous, but if I'm presenting on a topic I'm passionate about, that washes over me quickly. When I was doing a webinar a year or so ago, and it turned out there were over 600 people on the line, my reaction was simply, "I guess I'd better bring my A game!"
Whether or not you ultimately make presenting an integral part of your operations as I did, learning to present well can pay huge bonuses for your career, business and career search. Not only is it a skill that is valued by many, it's a way to create visibility. And it gives you a chance to think carefully about what and how you want to communicate, and then practice.
Consultants who present can become regarded as thought leaders, the go-to people for specific practice areas. That can then lead to becoming that most valued member of the firm, a rainmaker.
Business owners who present are able to raise the profile of their company, leading to new customers if they do it the right way.
Job seekers who present can build their brand, attract people to want to talk to and connect with them, and add additional strong talking points to their resume and presentation in interviews.
Employees who present get known by critical players in their company, and are often drawn into new projects or job opportunities by virtue of the reputation they develop.
So my best advice to all of you is to seek out opportunities to present.
You don't have to jump into the deep end of the pool all at once. Even just making a point of asking questions in every meeting you attend is a good start. Then you could try leading a meeting. Or if you want a supportive environment where you can get great practice, join a local chapter of Toastmasters.
Try it, see what happens, and let me know how it changes things for you!
Oh, and if you are trying to build business through speaking, instead of just assuming that will happen, try following my SPEAK template.