I was coaching a twenty-something who wanted to finish college.  After showing him the hive of graphic designers looking for work, he started to rethink his educational future.  After some discussion, I learned that what he really wanted was to be self-employed.

He hasn’t been working toward that goal so far, he says, because “I just don’t feel motivated to do anything right now.” We agreed that college probably wasn’t a good fit anyway for someone who isn’t motivated.

“So what should I do?” he finally asked.

My answer annoyed him, but I hope he takes the advice anyway.

I told him to learn to sell. Buy a sales book, I said, and when you’re done with that one, buy another. The reason is this: No matter what you’ll eventually do with your life, you’ll have to sell. Whether it’s bubble gum, Toyotas or you, the one skill that anyone benefits from having is the ability to persuade.

Selling is about communicating, and sales books will give you ideas and methods that have worked for other people. The part of sales that you won’t learn from a book though, is the ability to communicate effectively. That’s something that takes practice; the kind of practice you won’t get talking to your friends.  

I told him to go to Toastmasters.

Even if you never give a public presentation, your ability to communicate with customers and bosses will be greatly improved by the presence and leadership you learn; and your newfound poise will give others confidence in you.

Toastmasters International is an organization which allows anyone to learn public speaking for virtually nothing. Each of the hundred or so clubs in Colorado have dues, but it usually just a few bucks a week –  enough to buy office supplies for the group.

By participating, you learn leadership, organization, and you get to practice speaking before a group of supportive and like-minded people who also want to better themselves.

The Denver Press Club is forming a new Toastmasters chapter (I’m helping to start the club) and the details can be seen here.

Whether it’s that club or any of the thousands of others worldwide, the two hours per week you spend learning public speaking may be the most valuable investment in you that you ever make. It’s certainly the best thing you can do to prepare for an unknown career future.