Don’t call it a soft skill, this stuff is hard

For the people we work with, many of whom are scientists and engineers, communications have long been considered a “soft skill.” That’s code for “not important enough to study.” The irony is that as people in even the most technical fields rise through the ranks, they realize that it’s more important, and a whole lot less “soft” than they thought.

In the newly-released results of the Chapman University Survey of American Fears, researchers found that, 28.4 percent of Americans are afraid or very afraid of public speaking. There are also a lot of undocumented stats out there stating that public speaking is scarier than death and is second only to a fear of flying. Actual soft things like cashmere sweaters and bunnies didn’t even make the list.

So why is a supposedly soft skill so hard?

There are lots of reasons. Fear of being judged, fear of failing, fear of losing control and any number of other anxieties about being vulnerable in front of a group of people all make public speaking pretty scary.

But you can cure your fear.

My Rx: take control, increase your confidence, and vaccinate yourself against the idea of perfectionism.

Take control

Take an organized, logical approach. Think through your goal for your presentation, an important meeting, or any other occasion that calls on you to talk about yourself and your work. Figure out how you’ll get the audience interested on an emotional level, plot the path to your conclusion, and create a narrative thread to tie everything together so you can end with a logical conclusion. Then practice. A lot.

You choose what information you include and how to present it. You deliver it. That’s control.

Increase your confidence

Think about what your audience is going to ask. Come up with questions and answers about your main points and your presentation as a whole. Be ready. Know what to do if they ask for information you don’t have. Know what you’ll say when you get those questions that are off-topic. Know how to positively handle anything the audience throws at you and keep the focus on your goal. Practice these too.

Know your stuff, and know you’re ready for the audience. That’s confidence.

Vaccinate against perfectionism

As for that vaccine against perfectionism, you can get that here .

Because once you know there’s no such thing as perfect, you can relax and do the hard work to be fantastic. That’s perfect.



Photo Credit: Ross Little (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons