Career Opportunities in Public Speaking

By Varun R Malavalli

veryone talks about the downsides of the Corona virus or the Wuhan virus these days. However, every calamity also offers an opportunity. The lockdown has led to the discovery of many new skills of the masses – from cooking to writing. However, one trend that is mushrooming is that of the multiple YouTubers talking about all and sundry. More so, cricketers are talking about politics, film critics on society and every other street seems to have stand-up comics. So, I firmly believe that the world is largely rid of gloss phobia (fear of public speaking).

Public speaking is simply not talking to a friend in a public space. If that were the case, every mall hopper in urban India would be a public speaker. Public speaking is to address a gathering, regardless of the numbers, on any topic – either prepared in advance or impromptu. We being a naturally competitive people tend to look for applications of any field in education and career. I still remember my mother asking me the same question every time I brought a book from the library – “Is it related to your course?” My task is to explore the career opportunities in public speaking.

Before diving into the career opportunities, let us peek into the educational aspect. A lazy trawl through Google throws many a public speaking course on MOOCs and online platforms like Udemy, EdX and Coursera. You can learn interesting modules such as Speaking to inform, Influencing through storytelling and others. However, I did not find a full-time college course dedicated to public speaking. Fret not! There are many institutions that have dedicated themselves to train people in the art and science of public speaking. The Institute of Public Speaking offers Professional Certificate in Communication skills and Professional Certificate in Voice and Accent along with a few other certifications. TED, which has become a resume decorator, is offering a course to train people to give more TED Talks! There is another global organization which is close to a century-old. Toastmasters International was founded by Dr. Ralph C. Smedley in 1924 to make confident public speakers out of timid young men. It has been effective to this day with the catchy caption, “Where leaders are made”. In all modesty, I have benefitted immensely not only in terms of communication but in learning the ropes of leadership as well for over five years. This organization has close to 400,000 representatives called Toastmasters across 150 countries.

I spoke with some successful speakers and leaders across the spectrum – tech industry, start-ups, academia and professional public speakers. All of them unanimously agreed that public speaking skills are absolutely necessary for success in careers. Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) Aurobindo is a Soft-skills Trainer at Presidency University, Bengaluru. He firmly believes that 90% of engineering graduates are unemployable. Remember the tech company head honcho’s statement a few years ago? He adds that, “Placements are becoming a ‘mela’. No one cares about students. They are akin to a pregnant woman pushing out a baby”. He strongly recommends that the students need to be trained in communication skills from the word go. But they are masters of Java and C++! He simply says, “With the advent of Byju’s & White Hat Jr, even an 8th grader can learn Java”.

Refined communication skills may not be very essential to walk through the doors of tech giants despite all the group discussions and interviews. Once inside the hallowed walls of tech giants, “people with very little public speaking skills can be roasted alive”, contends DTM Aurobindo. DTM Kavya Gowda is a prominent leader in one of the global tech giants. She opines that communication is way beyond good vocabulary. It is all about inspiring and persuading people beyond the use of words. She works with clients in China, Europe and Africa remotely.  She is certain that her public speaking skills ‘100% opened the doors’ for her. She is quick to add that one has to earn a seat at the table with skills and hard work. She adds, “I mostly spoke to impress. Only in the last few years I realized that ‘your voice has power’ to influence change”.

Even in the renaissance of social media and young Instagram influencers, there are youngsters who find attending interviews more unsettling than CAT exam. DTM Annesha Dutta has the perfect solution for such candidates. Her YouTube channel, AskAnnie helps the engineering and management candidates prepare for interviews by training them to answer questions like “tell me about yourself”. Annie was a lecturer of Business Communication in Calcutta with an MPhil in English literature. She is currently serving as Communication Manager at Money Tap.

The co-founder and CEO of Helyxon (med-tech enterprise), Toastmaster Sridhar Ranganathan, who started as a sales representative and saw a meteoric rise and occupied positions such as MD and AVP of International Business at Allergan informs me that as an entrepreneur and corporate leader, he interacts with a lot of people routinely. According to him, communication is about what the audience wants and how we make it interesting. He professes great respect for the audience we address by knowing about them. He believes in Craig Valentine’s words, “You should not get ready. You should stay ready”. Sample this. He was invited to address high school students. He learnt about the toppers of the preceding 3 years. He then said, “You too can become like Anand” instead of merely mentioning that they too can be toppers. He sadly adds that public speaking skills have still not got their due in tech parks. Most top managers feel that they can speak what they want simply because they are erudite. He believes that, “people love to hear someone who is an imperfectionist.” He interestingly adds that better communicators are more empathetic as they have an understanding of the situation.

DTM Chendil Kumar, popularly known as CK, adds that public speaking made a difference in his career. Though he was a prominent debater at MIT Manipal, he chose a different career path. He noticed that people half as qualified as him were surging ahead in their careers simply because of their ability to communicate clearly and confidently. While he was going downhill in the dealership business, a chance encounter with a professor friend at IIM-B rekindled his passion for communication. A couple of top-notch certifications such as “Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Principles of persuasion” and “Teaching Negotiations in organisations at Harvard” ensured that he addressed the MBA 2013 batch at Wharton! CK ensures that there is humour in every address but he is quick to add that “it’s not only about speaking”. He has accumulated core skills such as Assertive communication, negotiation and influencing without authority. He is a frequent visitor to Singapore and USA where he delivers sessions with “accuracy, brevity and clarity”.

DTM Deepak Justin (lovingly called DJ) is a prominent corporate trainer and motivational speaker with a background in advertising. In the hard times of COVID-19, he has motivated the selfless frontline warriors – the nurses. He says that his protégé has delivered an address on the same stage as Barack Obama and Trevor Noah! The creative experience at ad agencies gave him a distinct advantage over other trainers. His secret to become a successful corporate trainer is to solve business problems. He adds that there are myriad career opportunities in public speaking – corporate training, motivational speaker, personal coach, anchor on TV & social media, Radio Jockey, stand-up comic, Instagram Influencer, preacher, ventriloquist and so on. CK quotes examples of public speakers-turned comics such as Rajashekar Mammidalla and KVM Kishore. Kavya simply says, “Look around you. The apple orchard is ripe for picking”.Annie has a unique take on the applications of public speaking. She says that it is useful in sales, HR, marketing, content and in every leadership role. However, public speaking makes you a better storyteller to your family, friends, popular at any party or even sought after by your kids!

What makes a successful public speaker? DJ bluntly says, “Applause doesn’t earn pay-cheques”. His advice is for the students to figure out early if they are cut out for public speaking. They need to discover early as to what fascinates them. He gives a useful tip, “learn the skills before you learn the tricks of the trade”. He also uses an interesting term, ‘microniche’. CK has the last word. He says, “Be genuine, be yourself”. Now, are you ready to take the stage and glow under the spotlight?


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