In an essay celebrating Forbes’ 100-year anniversary, billionaire Warren Buffett says there is one investment that “supersedes” all others: Invest in yourself. “Address whatever you feel your weaknesses are, and do it now,” Buffett writes.
Buffett goes on to reveal his weakness — he was terrified of public speaking. Early in his career Buffett recognized that the weakness would hold him back. He enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course for $100. “It changed my life.” As Buffett’s speaking skills improved, his confidence grew. It helped him sell stocks and, as a bonus, gave him the courage to propose to his girlfriend Susie. She said yes.
Buffett’s advice comes on the heels of an email I recently received from one of this column’s readers. Steve is a sales professional at a global software company with nearly 12,000 employees and $4 billion in annual revenue. Two years ago Steve attempted to transition from an engineer into a sales role. The company was assembling a team of “evangelists” who would speak about the company’s products to customers, partners, and analysts. Their job was to stir up excitement for the company’s software and technology solutions. Steve didn’t get the job because he was an engineer, not a salesperson. The hiring manager — who was new at the company — took one look at Steve’s resume and assumed he didn’t have the communication skills to shine.
Steve proved the hiring manager wrong. He worked on his presentation, public-speaking and storytelling skills. He read articles, books, and watched videos of great business communicators. Although he wasn’t on the global evangelist team, Steve transitioned into a sales role at the company to promote cloud-based solutions. He excelled at translating the complexity of the company’s products into language non-technical customers could understand. Steve says the access to this Forbes column almost felt “like cheating” because it gave him simple-to-follow tools to stand out from his peers.
Nobody underestimates Steve today. This summer, the CEO recognized Steve on stage at the company’s annual sales conference. Steve received two awards for his excellence in sales communication, one of which included “an incredible financial award.” Steve adds that the manager who passed him up two years earlier has become one of Steve’s biggest fans inside the company.
The reason why I harp on this subject time and again is because I see the real difference public-speaking skills make in people’s lives. I hear from the entrepreneurs who get funded, the sales professionals who beat their quotas, and the CEOs who see a spike in their stock price after knocking an interview out of the park on CNBC. Professionals with superior public-speaking skills have an advantage in the workplace.
Warren Buffett says that improving your talent, especially in the area of public speaking, is an investment no one can take away from you. “They can’t tax it away. Inflation can’t take it from you. You have it for the rest of your life.” It sounds like an investment worth making.