People tell me all the time they don’t like speaking. They’re too nervous to ever talk to a group. Or they just never do any kind of presentation, so they’re not interested in developing that skill.

Here’s the thing. Speaking ability—or lack of it—shows up in surprising places.

My friend Cindy is ready for a brand-new bathroom, so she’s checking out contractors who do that kind of work. Her visit to a local remodeler yielded a lesson for all of us.

This upscale remodeling company invites potential customers to a presentation. They want you to hear what they’ve done in other homes, see all the options you have, and get jazzed up enough about your new kitchen or bath to plunk down your money and put the project in motion.

Cindy and her husband showed up the other day eager to hear about showers and saunas and vanities. That fancy new voice-activated lighting and temperature control. Those new high-tech toilets with seat warmers and who knows what all else.

They were ready to buy. But not for long.

The designer was still talking about kitchens. She was talking a lot about kitchens. And talking even more about herself. In a lilting, little-girl voice. Actually, she showed some slides.

She actually went on and on about each kitchen picture she showed. And for each one, she actually apologized, “This slide doesn’t actually do it justice.”

Because of the blahblah, the designer was already running behind. And she explained, with even more actually-s, that she’d started late. So, her presentation on bathrooms would actually be delayed while she wrapped up with stoves and countertops and cabinets.

Cindy imagined herself listening to more yammering about what she wasn’t shopping for. Then sitting through another hour of things she wanted to hear about, in that sing-song style that was already getting on her nerves.

She looked at her husband, read the thought bubble over his head, and gave him the high sign.

They walked out. And somewhere between $8,000 and $28,000 went with them. They’ll spend their remodeling money someplace else.

Who would imagine a contractor losing business over presentation skills? Well, a smart contractor would.

The ability to communicate with customers is crucial, no matter what field we’re in.

Developing that ability should be part of everyone’s professional development plan. An interior designer might think speaking ability is a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. She’d rather focus on color palates and fabrics and trends in furniture.

The truth is, nobody knows she can recommend the perfect carpet and couch if she can’t express herself in a way that attracts clients and keeps them.

I’m not picking on interior designers—I know a few who are excellent, enthusiastic speakers and make that part of their marketing.

The point Cindy’s story drove home for me is that so many professionals hold themselves back. They torpedo their chance to develop a reputation and have more influence.

They miss opportunities to bring in new customers, to position themselves as experts, and to grow their business. Because they focus only on developing their technical knowledge and ability. They dismiss the so-called “soft skills.”

Those “soft skills” do the selling.

If we don’t get a glimpse of your brilliance, we don’t choose you as our financial adviser or graphic designer or computer expert. Whatever you do, communicating well about it is fundamental to your success.

If you’re not a natural at talking about yourself and your work, how do you get better at it? You can hire a coach, of course (you know a good one!). Or take a class.

Many companies bring in presentation skills trainers for groups of employees. You can enroll in a public class if you’re on your own. Community colleges offer public speaking courses with affordable tuition.

Or try a Toastmasters chapter near you—people are getting together there to learn and practice speaking skills, just waiting for you to join them.

Have I persuaded you that you’d benefit by being a better speaker? Or are you still thinking it’s a skill you’ll never use and don’t need?

Fill me in with a comment below.