Speak Your Way to a Better Job: Part I

Bernadette Rodgers began her higher education career working with first-generation, low-income students. As a young academic professional, she was eager to find ways to get recognition and move her career forward. But as most people discover early on, there typically isn’t a straightforward, pre-determined path to do so.

Then she discovered the power of an all-too-often overlooked career tool: Public speaking. “I used all opportunities available to me to present to students and at conferences,” says Rodgers. “It helped seasoned colleagues recognize my knowledge and expertise.” From there, she continued speaking, and it became a regular part of her career strategy.

Rodgers is now quick to extol the virtues of stepping up to the podium and presenting to groups. “Public speaking can be incredibly useful in all fields, but particularly in higher education,” she says. “It has the ability to set you apart from others in your field. Even if other professionals have the same knowledge as you, you are the one demonstrating that knowledge to the audience.”

Her findings echo what many professionals say about the power of public speaking. For those who invest the time to develop the necessary skills and get comfortable in front of others, public speaking is one of the best ways to gain professional recognition.

But besides the benefit of standing out from other job candidates, public speaking also offers a number of other powerful career advantages for higher ed professionals.

You Can Reach Beyond Your Institution
Although there are probably opportunities to advance your career within the college or university you already work at, you’ll generally have more potential career growth by gaining visibility outside your present institution. Public speaking is an excellent tool for bringing your ideas, experience, and unique insight to those colleagues. “Public speaking allows academics to reach a broader audience,” says speaker Dr. Philip Kim, an assistant professor at Walsh University. “It gets you more engaged in the community.”

You’re seen as a thought leader
Ideas and insight are the currency for progress in any field. This is especially true in higher education. Therefore, job candidates who have their own unique innovations and developments are far more sought-after, giving them a clear-cut advantage over others in their field. This is especially true for those who can skillfully present those ideas to others. “The more you appear as a spokesperson, the more you’ll be seen as a leader,” says Triin Linamagi, career coach and founder of CVProfs. “You’ll be attracting more people who are interested in what you know and what you have done.”

You Bring Your Resume to Life
As powerful as a well-written resume or CV can be in conveying the breadth and value of your experience, it’s still a relatively limited format – there’s only so much a few pages of printed words can do to portray an entire career. But when you stand in front of a group and speak, you bring to life the rich tapestry of your experience in-person, full of examples and real-world color. “Resumes are filled with what you’ve done. But X-factors like executive presence, impact and influence, and cross-cultural communication are difficult to display,” says Tim Toterhi, author of “The Introvert’s Guide to Job Hunting.” “Public speaking can help you do just that.”

You Build and demonstrate confidence
Confidence is one of the biggest keys to a successful job search. Those candidates who can talk about their qualifications in fluid, unhesitating detail will rise much faster through the mountain of rivals seeking any position. Presenting in front of groups can be an ideal way to develop this crucial trait. “Preparing for an interview requires the same skills as preparing for a presentation,” says Michelle L. Merritt, president and CEO of Merrfeld Resumes and Coaching. “The confidence boost that comes from successful public speaking will enhance the skills you need to share your story with an interviewer.”

You Prove your leadership and communication abilities
Hiring managers are looking for leaders. Even for the entry-level ranks of a profession, those tasked with recruiting staff members prefer candidates who have the potential to be visible, manage others, and merit promotion. For that purpose, public speaking is perhaps the best demonstration available. “Speaking to groups highlights you as educator of your peers,” says communications strategist Aurora Gregory. “It affirms your leadership potential.”

You Access a Far Greater Network
One of the biggest of all advantages public speaking can offer your career is the vast networking opportunities it can open up. Before, during, and after any presentation, you’ll be meeting people you might not otherwise have had the chance to encounter. Best of all, these potential networking contacts are getting a strong demonstration of what you have to offer your profession. “Public speaking lets you gain exposure to an audience that could include your next department chair,” says Gregory. “Your speech or presentation is like a pre-interview that lets you showcase your abilities.”

In the second installment of this two-part article, we’ll look at specific techniques for developing public speaking as a career tool, including ways to build the necessary skills, how to choose and refine topics, and what types of events may be best to speak at.

Part II — Action Tips from Experts