Lisa Braithwaite has a doozy of a post over at Speak Schmeak about a client who came to a startlingly simple realisation:
My client has spent the last fifteen years creating a paralyzing fear of public speaking in her mind. Yesterday she said to me, “I wish someone had just said along the way ‘Suck it up’.”

Public speaking and communication skills are skills you are going to need and use every day for the rest of your life. I would argue that you will use these skills more often than most of what you learned in school, with the exception of reading and writing.

Suck it up – amen to that Lisa.

I see the end result of these ill-considered, self-defeating, choices every day. The 45 year-old executive who can’t access his own email or generate the simplest PowerPoint document without his PA. The researcher who stolidly refuses to learn how to use an RSS Reader and who therefore has to navigate fruitlessly through hundreds of sites every week, waiting for new content to be posted. And the poor unfortunate bozo who has shied away from public speaking since childhood.

We can’t expect 12 year-olds to make good decisions about speaking in public, so the encouragement on that score has to come from parents and teachers. But if you find yourself shying away from the podium as you enter the workforce, I suggest you read the following paragraphs:

“I’ve found public speaking very difficult my whole life. I was slow to learn how to do it as a child and always found ways around my problem, so I stayed under the radar in class and never got picked up for my deficiency. Later, in college, I was always able to get other people to do the public speaking and on team projects, I could contribute in other ways, but pretty much always managed to avoid the public speaking part.

Of course, it’s a bit of a problem now. I’m head of my department and I’m constantly having to defer meetings or get my subordinates to stand up and speak to cover my phobia. I probably should have done something about this before now, but hey, public speaking is something you are born for or it’s not. And for me, that’s definitely a big not! Not being able to speak in public hasn’t really hurt my career so far, and I reckon I’ve just got too much ground to make up in this skill – I just don’t think it’s worth the effort at this stage in my career.”

Okay? Now read the passage again and substitute the phrase “public speaking” with the word “reading” – because in many corporate environments, not being able to stand up with confidence in front of an audience, big or small, is about as career-limiting as illiteracy.

Suck. It. Up!

Lisa’s excellent [and much less ranty] take on this is here – clicky clicky.

My thoughts on the value of public speaking for your career are here.