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Netflix has released a documentary about how Warren Buffet became Warren Buffet. The film is very appropriately titled, Becoming Warren Buffet. Buffet is not merely a self-made billionaire, but is considered at any given time the richest man in the world. Occasionally, depending on the variables he’s knocked down to second or third richest man in the world. Almost all of his staggering wealth will be given away for the betterment of society. As someone who has read quite a lot about Buffet, I didn’t learn anything new in the film, but there was one small detail that I found incredibly interesting. Buffet doesn’t have his undergraduate or graduate degree hanging in his office, but he does have a certificate of completion for a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking. He says that he was terrified to the point of becoming ill over public speaking and the course changed his life; and he’s proud of the certificate.

If you pull up interviews on Warren Buffet you will often find him explaining why public speaking is such a valuable asset and why the inability to speak publicly is such a liability.

Think about that. One of the richest men in the world cites a course he took on public speaking as life changing. Needless to say as someone who speaks for a living, and teaches others how to build influence through presentations, I was not surprised. The capacity to communicate in any setting is often dismissed as a “soft skill.” The very phrase “soft skill” relegates this work to the category of optional. It’s as if these skills would be nice to have, but they aren’t necessary to the functioning of a successful business or career.

If you want to have influence as a leader, a sales person or an individual, your capacity to communicate is everything. Your effectiveness is determined not by what you have to say but by how you articulate your position. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling an idea, a product, a service or yourself for that matter. Credibility and influence cannot be separated from language.

“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I spend lots of time helping clients build presentations that will convert into opportunity, craft e-mails that will inspire a response and develop communication plans for business development or any number of high stakes conversations. My clients are exceptional at what they do, but their capacity to influence an outcome is not always matched by their expertise in their profession.

I can’t possibly overestimate the power of language and the ability to communicate. If you’re trying to develop better salespeople, better managers, and better leaders do not treat the ability to communicate as an optional soft skill but rather an integral skill for all areas of your business. Teach people how to communicate and you will optimize every area of your business.

Humans do business with humans. No matter how brilliant you are you must be able to connect with humans. Even with Warren Buffet’s singular capacity to build wealth, he understood the power of public speaking.

If you’re terrified of public speaking – well you’re in good company. Even Warren Buffet got weak in the knees and physically ill at the very idea, but you can also be like Buffet and rise above that fear and become empowered and influential. The most heartening thing about Buffet’s story is that he learned how to be a public speaker. Presenting is a skill that can be learned, as evidenced by Buffet’s certificate of completion.

Here are some things you should do if you want to get better at presenting and public speaking:

1. SPEAK. You can start small but start now. You get better by doing and not just watching others.

2. Join Toast Masters which will make you SPEAK. I’ve never been but I know that it’s helped lots of people.

3. Volunteer to present something somewhere. Everyone rises to a deadline. You need to SPEAK to get better at speaking.

4. Take an improv class. It’s not public speaking but it will help you loosen up and you’ll do things that won’t work and you’ll figure out that bombing doesn’t actually kill you because you have to keep going.

5. Stop telling yourself you aren’t any good at speaking. Your beliefs become your truth. Instead tell yourself that you’ve never learned and you’re great at learning new things!

I could make a much more exhaustive list but the very first and most important thing is to go and actually SPEAK! Tell me where you’re speaking – who knows, maybe I’ll show up in the audience and cheer you on!

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