When building a company, marketing is everything. We often think of marketing as advertising, but in lean marketing that is only one component of an effective plan. An equally important piece is public relations and the value it can bring in increased awareness and visibility for your brand. PR can come in many flavors: media coverage, social media traffic, events, stunts, and (wait for it) public speaking engagements.
Regular speaking opportunities can help position you as an industry or subject expert and can often lead to opportunities with reporters for follow-up questions and interviews. Many people have an almost irrational fear of public speaking and the best way to overcome that fear is through practice and repetition; the nervous flutter may never go will certainly become more manageable with time and experience as a speaker.
The key is to develop the ability to comunicate clearly and persuade audiences to your point of view. I would argue that the two most important skills any entrepreneur can have are the ability to write well and the ability to speak well – from persuading potential investors, to closing an important client, to bringing an audience to your way of thinking, it is your ability to communicate well that will make the difference.
Here are 10 thoughts to bear in mind as you pursue opportunities for public speaking engagements:
1. Stick with what you know. Stay in your comfort zone and establish your credibility by finding opportunities to speak about areas in which you are knowledgeable. One of the primary goals of speaking often is to establish yourself as a go-to expert – someone whom reporters, academics, and investors will look to as a solid source of information and insight.
2. Position yourself. By getting in front of the right audience, you will do more to position yourself as an expert on a specific topic, industry, methodology, or other area of expertise. Your competency in speaking and facility with the material can give you great credibility as an expert and can lead to more invitations to speak or lecture as well as help to raise awareness of your business with ket audiences. Take the time to understand what the audience composition will be and determine for yourself is there is value to your business by getting in front of that particular group. Don’t waste your time speaking to an audience of teachers, when your product or service is intended for attorneys.
3. Don’t be afraid. Even though you probably will; even the most experienced public speakers can experience a touch of butterflies when faced with a large room of people string straight at them. One good idea is to start small with manageable groups and a friendly audience; even a practice run with a small group of family and friends can go far to prepare you for the big moment. A few good pointers that may help you overcome the flutters: Prepare well, remember to breathe (a great stress reducer), find a friendly face in the audience and make eye contact. One tactic that works very well for me is to introduce myself to a few people in the front rows beforehand and then look for them during the talk; the simple fact of knowing someone even slightly helps one feel supported and appreciated when the talk begins.
4. What’s your style. Determine for yourself the style of speaking that best fits you and that helps you to feel comfortable. Different speakers approach a talk in many different ways: some prefer to write the speech out and have it in front of them on paper or a screen, others prefer working from notes, for some speakers using slides is all they need, and for some a completely off the cuff approach works best. No matter what style works best for you, always consider your audience – who they are, how they dress, and what their general demeanor will be during your talk. One god pointer is to always try to “look” like the people you are speaking to – the better you fit in the more effective you will be in conveying your message.
5. Keep it simple, Stupid. Know your message, love your message, stay on your message. If you avoid getting overly complicated your audience will engage more directly with you and you will be that much more effective as a public speaker. One great way to to this is to apply the classic 3-part structure to your talk: tell them what you’re going to say. Say what you’re going to say. Repeat for them what you said. Get it? Got it? Good.
6. Be arresting, be engaging. Grab their attention by coming out strong when you open your talk – this can be accomplished in several different ways, all of which can work nicely. Tell a joke or a short anecdote; some speakers like to start off by surveying the audience with a few short questions appropriate to your topic (“Can I please see a show of hands? How many of you actually own a Maltese?”). Lately I have taken to starting a talk by taking my smart phone out and asking if they mind if I take a picture of the audience – it usually gets a few chuckles and I have a nice little memory to show my kids. Once you have them in the palm of your hand, always start with your core message and once you get going be sure to always pay close attention to your audience and how they are responding; if you see them nodding off, it’s time to skip ahead a bit. Be sure to use your voice – speak loudly and clearly enough so that everyone in the room can hear you and make eye contact with some of the folks sitting out there..
7. Outline, don’t write. Professionals who give many many speeches often use a written text when they give a talk. Te advantage to this is that you don’t miss any of your important points that you wish to make. The disadvantage is that you come across stiff and inaccessible and that the audience quickly tunes you out. Remember public speaking should be about making a connection with your audience, not reading to them. My habit is to work from fairly extensive notes that I have in the speakers notes section of my slide deck – these notes act as an outline for the talk. This allows me to adjust what I am saying based on the reaction I am getting from the crowd: if they are falling asleep, put the petal down and motor through to the next section. If they’re eating it up, take your time and go into greater detail.
8.. Limit your slide content. First and foremost, do NOT be a that person who stands in front of the audience and simply reads to them the content of the powerpoint slide on the screen. B-o-r-i-n-g. Really, really boring. Your notes should contain the points you need to make, and your voice should be the tool for making those points. Your slides should contain the images, text, or video that supports what you are saying; be visual and use striking images – people hate reading your words on a screen, but they love looking at pictures. Simple, graphic slides with strong images go a long way to support your message. Also, video clips. People love video clips.
9. Rehearse, for crying out loud. The single most important piece of advice that I impart to inexperienced speakers is to practice. Once you have your presentation ready, practice at your desk in front of your computer. Practice in front of your spouse or your kids. Get friends or colleagues in a room and practice on them. Rehearsal is the only thing you can do that will get the information engrained in your mind and get you a degree of comfort with the material. A really good technique that many public speaking coaches use is to videotape the talk and watch it; this is the single best way to see what’s working and what’s not, both in terms of content and your own presentation style.
10. Remember it is about you. Be authentic, be yourself, and be comfortable. If you try to make yourself into someone that you aren’t, your audience will know immediately and you will have lost them before you’ve really begun. As mom would say, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. How could they not like that sheyne punim?”
Photo: City Year
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