Last week my CEO asked me to take his place and present at an investor conference. This was an excellent opportunity for me to stand in front of a large and influential audience and pitch my company to them. In the audience were senior investment bankers, venture capitalists, CEOs and, of course, my own company's board of directors members. It was one of those high stakes moments where you get a great deal of exposure and you have the chance to make an impression, good or bad, on many people who can influence the direction of your career.
I nailed it.
And... this take me back to the most important class I ever took: public speaking.
I was born and raised in Israel, where I also served in the military for 3 years. In my third year I served as an Air Force instructor, and to earn that privilege I had to pass a teaching class. This short, three week course, changed my life. For three weeks I was taught how to stand in front of an audience and communicate a message. I spoke, and my instructors and fellow students pointedly critiqued my performance. The first few times were unnerving. The stress of standing in front of an audience, some of which were instructed to intentionally throw off my pace, was something that I never had to face before. However, after three weeks of trial by fire, I mastered the techniques and my confidence and performance were much improved.
Almost twenty years later, I still use these same techniques. Speak slowly. Make eye contact. Move around. Modulate your voice. Use your hands for emphasis. Tell a story. Connect with the audience.
Public speaking is a skill in which very few of us receive formal training, but which is truly indispensable for one's career. While I didn't know it at the time, that three week teaching class continues to do wonders for my career decades later.
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