My old college program emphasized that each course pushed improving our presentation and speaking skills.

That’s it. It didn’t matter if the focus at the time was business law, finance, or human resources. The course content was certainly important, but the university placed an equal value on being able to get up in front of a group, be prepared to present or defend a point of view.

I saw in my old-man classes (I didn’t go back to school until my late 50s) that, just like in the retail produce business, students in most classes could be divided into three definitive groups: One that was aggressive, outspoken and involved; one that was involved, but still on the quiet side; and the last group, which did enough to get by, sat back, and rarely spoke.

Which of these do you suppose are the ones who generally succeed in business?

I wasn’t among the outspoken type-A personality group. Far from ideal, I teetered on the quiet side for some time. But that’s at least one good reason why a person goes back to school — to grow, improve and gain a little more confidence, right? The program helped me in this regard. Not that I needed a lot of prodding to come out of my shell, but some prodding was in order.

It isn’t even necessary that a person return to a formal degree program to succeed. I’ve known numerous people in the produce business with only general education who have succeeded. However, it could be that an area adult ed or community college in any given area offers speaking-centered courses to help someone come out of their shell.

On the flip side, I’ve worked with many people over the years who, in one-on-one conversations, are brimming with good ideas. One guy in particular confided to me that he could speak to three people just fine, but with a larger group he just froze.

Public speaking is by far the No. 1 fear, worse even than death. Whatever the reason this must be surmounted if a person (in the produce business or any other) hopes to ascend to the next level.

For me it was speaking to area high school foods classes when I was a produce manager that helped. This and the later college presentations helped me face this very real obstacle. The funny thing is that, once this fear is overcome, speaking to and with others in groups gets to be as fun and as interesting a challenge as any.

If a produce person aspires to the next level, whatever that level may be, it’s important to be prepared and collect your thoughts. To stand and deliver.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at [email protected].

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