Does the mere thought of public speaking leave you quaking in fear? Would you rather get a root canal than stand before an audience and deliver a presentation? If it’s any comfort, a lot of people feel that way. And that’s too bad because you are missing a great opportunity.

A blog post about Warren Buffett and the importance of public speaking recently caught my eye. The article stated that Buffet believes that public speaking is a skill that could potentially increase your value (as an employee or entrepreneur) by 50%.

As someone who spends a lot of time out on the road, speaking about the opportunities available in email, social media and content marketing, I won’t disagree with this statement. Speaking at events and seminars has helped me find new clients, build my network of business partners and social media followers, and even helped me secure a publishing deal. It has also opened up countless other opportunities for iContact and myself.

I would suggest that if you are going to develop one new skill this year outside of your everyday marketing roles, public speaking is definitely the one you want to master.

Public Speaking Isn’t for Everyone – But That’s No Excuse

OK, I understand that for many people, public speaking doesn’t always come easy. However, it is a craft that can be learned, developed and constantly improved – if you give it a go.

You might think a good public speaker has the “gift of the gab” – but it’s probably more to do with persistence, practice and deep-rooted knowledge in their given subject.

For those of you who are still perhaps a little too nervous to take to the stage, I wanted to share a story of one of my most daunting public speaking appearances.

San Diego

A couple of years ago, I was invited to San Diego to speak at an industry event in front of a huge audience of email marketing experts. I’ve got to tell you, the prospect of speaking to such a large, knowledgeable audience filled me with dread.

Prior to taking to the stage, I took the opportunity to check out a number of other speakers. They didn’t make me feel any better about myself.

Here’s the thing: I’m British and a product of my country’s state education system in the 1980s. At the time, confidence and the encouragement to stand up and be heard were hardly encouraged. “Sit down and shut up” was more of the flavor of the day at my school.

The fact that I was the only “bumbling Brit” on the bill that day added to my self-doubt. Everyone else was, in my mind, an uber-confident American, with what I perceived to be a “hardwired from birth” level of self-confidence and an amazing, almost showbiz-style personality.

I’ve got to tell, as the organizers brought me onto the stage to the pumped-up tunes of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” (don’t ask me why), I felt really uncomfortable.

The 30 to 40 minutes I was on stage went by in a flash. I got by in the best way I could, simply by being myself.

Yes, there were moments when I lost my train of thought. I stumbled at some times, and at others, my voice accelerated beyond 100 miles an hour – but I got there in the end and was delighted by an enthusiastic round of applause at the end of the session.

Following the event, I received lots of kind words from delegates, and my social media feed filled up with lots of positivity – including some hilarious comments regarding my accent (apparently my USP and what set me apart from the other speakers). While this helped massage my ego a little, I knew I could do better.

Video Playback

Although it was painful to watch, like an athlete trying to shave a 10th of a second off my personal best, I studied a video of my “performance” and made notes of every mistake I made. I moved around the stage too much (stand still), I spoke too fast (slow down) and I kept referring to my slides as a prompt (rehearse more).

Like everything else in life, I probably learned more from the mistakes I made during my speaking engagement than from my successes. So all in all, despite knowing I could have done better, it was a positive experience.

Still Not Showbiz

Fast-forward a couple of years, and with numerous speaking engagements under my belt, do I have the confidence of my American counterparts? Well, no – I’m still that same bumbling Brit – but I do have greater confidence in my own ability and voice and therefore have no desire to emulate more “showbiz” presenters.

Public speaking is something that you get better at with practice. I still get nervous, and I still make mistakes, but it’s helped me find my voice and better position myself and the company I work for in the communities we serve.

Give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen?

How has public speaking helped you create new business opportunities? Share your comments below:

This post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog.