“Good morning! I’m Jane, and my job is to help you become the best you can be. How can I help you today?”
This is how my friend Jane answers her phone, in a bright and cheerful tone. She’s a health and wellness coach. The greeting, warm and genuine, helps put anyone reaching out to her at ease, and paves the way for a real conversation. Would she get the same reaction if she answered her phone with a simple “Hello”? I doubt it.
As entrepreneurs or budding entrepreneurs, you are speaking to potential clients or partners, presenting your business numbers to the bank, or maybe interviewing someone you may want to employ. In each scenario, how effectively you present yourself verbally has a huge impact on the outcome.
How you speak, and how you deliver your message will affect how people respond and react to you. Are you convincing? Are you relatable? Can you explain your point of view? Significantly, if you speak and present yourself well, you convey an aura of trust and leadership. Thus, developing the ability to speak well in a public forum is an important part of being an entrepreneur.
Photo: Supreet Bains-Sharma
How can you develop this skill? If you are not naturally an outgoing person, the first thing to tackle is your reluctance and discomfort. While it’s true that we should all step out of our comfort zone, I don’t recommend jumping off the deep end. I suggest baby steps. Start with a planned topic, a short paragraph and an audience of 2-3 friends or colleagues who will give you supportive feedback, and who, most importantly, will be encouraging. This is not where you want a thorough dissection and evaluation. This is where you want encouragement and guidance. Deliver your speech to your handpicked group, and listen carefully to the feedback.
With this first baby step, you will have slayed the dragon of “I can’t do this”. You will now be standing on the corpse of the dragon thinking “Wow, somehow…. I did it!” You have crossed over the ocean of fear and reached the land of getting better. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself!
The next step is to get comfortable with speaking. Create a group of trusted friends who won’t mind you pitching to them once a month for five minutes. If possible, use a different topic for each attempt, i.e. how to pitch to a client or affiliate, how to plan your next topic at your local networking event, and so forth.
Photo: Supreet Bains-Sharma
You are now probably wondering how to polish your speaking and make it better. Here are some quick tips to help you on your way:
1. Start smart
You want people’s attention from the get-go. Start with an amusing anecdote, a startling statistic or a quirky question – or even a combination, such as “Do you know that 815 million people around the world go to bed on an empty stomach?”
2. Less is more
Don’t labour your point to death. Make your main point succinctly and cleverly. Spend time thinking of how you will word it, and craft the sentence for maximum impact. Instead of saying “I believe strongly in women’s empowerment and therefore I think we need to come together to form a group of empowered women who take on the task of helping other women”, you could say “Come join me in my mission to help women be the best they can be.”
3. Practice, practice, practice
If you don’t believe me, believe Forbes magazine. I know a woman who went on stage and would get so nervous she would shake and be breathless. Simply by practicing, she recently won a local contest.
4. Build in humour, or tell a story
Audiences do not remember numbers, or facts, however interesting they may be. Link those facts to a story, or add a relevant joke, and the recall is much higher.
5. End with a call to action
You don’t want people to forget what you’ve said the minute they walk out. You want your audience to do something as a result of hearing you speak. If you are pitching, you want them to take action. So end with a call to action, such as “Thank you for your time today. I look forward to receiving your draft proposal for the partner venture we discussed.”
Today’s growing online world deceives us into thinking speaking skills are not important. They are. In a BBC interview, Mark Zupan, then Dean of the business school at SUNY, says “Speaking and writing are the number one set of skills that our advisory board and recruiters say need more work.” Speaking well will help you collaborate and develop better business relationships.
As you build this skill, I wish you speech success!
Supreet (also Sue) is an award-winning public speaker and trainer, providing training in leadership skills, selling skills and public speaking. She conducts workshops on public speaking, effective communication, and has created skillbyte modules for crafting an elevator pitch, speech introduction, and more. Under her company, Ark Consulting Services, she provides customised communication strategies for both individuals and organisations. Supreet is passionate about inspiring others to grow and achieve results, and you can follow her on her company Facebook and LinkedIn pages for more tips, or contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She loves to hear from people!