Someone once asked me, “If you were in an elevator with a younger engineer and you only had a few minutes with them and they asked you what are the three most important skills they should develop in their engineering career?  What would you say?”  I won’t go into all three of them in this post, but I will discuss one: become a great public speaker.

If you were to choose one skill to focus on developing in your engineering career development, I would highly recommend developing your public speaking skills. Many engineering professionals, especially younger engineers, fail to realize how important it is to be a good public speaker. Many engineers are scared to death of public speaking because of their introverted personality. The good news that I have to share with you is that public speaking is not one of those skills that you are born with; it is one that you develop.  The best speakers in the world were scared to death at one time too, but they worked at it and excelled, and so can you!

Whether it be 4 or 4000 people, your ability to present your ideas clearly and powerfully, can make or break your engineering career.  Once I decided that I wanted to change the lives of engineers by helping them develop their non-technical skills, I knew that the only way to reach large numbers of engineers at one time would be to speak in front of large audiences.  It was at that time that I decided that I was going to learn how to be a great public speaker.

I immediately joined my local chapter of Toastmasters International and started my journey to improve my speaking skills. If you are not familiar with Toastmasters, it is a non-profit educational organization that operates chapters around the world for the purpose of helping members improve their communication and public speaking skills, develop their leadership abilities, and increase their overall level of confidence. This is something people don’t realize; by improving your ability to speak in public, you are improving and building many other skills including your confidence, which is one of the biggest obstacles that engineers usually have to overcome.

Through public speaking groups like Toastmasters, you will learn how to speak spontaneously and also have the opportunity to prepare and present longer speeches with specific goals and objectives. These groups provide a comfortable, supportive atmosphere for you to start to develop or improve your speaking skills. I can guarantee you that every member of your local chapter was just as fearful, if not more, of public speaking at some point in their life as you may have been.

Having great public speaking skills is a key ingredient to creating an extraordinary engineering career! In addition to the benefits I have already discussed, the ability to speak in public will help you to bring new business into your firm. In several instances when I was working as a design engineer, prospective clients would see an engineer do a great job presenting a project at a local board meeting, and the next thing you know they are calling that engineer to take over their project. Great speaking skills may also get you noticed within your own company to the point that they that they ask you to accompany a marketing professional in meetings with prospective clients. The list of benefits is endless.

Improving your public speaking and communication skills will also prepare you for being a manager, if you are not one already. Managers must be able to clearly communicate messages to their team and your employer may take that into account when considering you for a promotion.

If you are reading this and are scared to death of public speaking, I have wonderful news for you. With some hard work, determination, and practice, you can become a great public speaker. Believe me, becoming an effective communicator and public speaker could very well be the difference between hoping that all of your career goals and dreams come true and actually achieving them!

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