28 September 2020|Latest Posts, Pitching Skills, Psychology
As a startup founder you are the driver of the business and also the voice of the business.To deliver a successful presentation or a speech, whether that’s via Zoom or in person, you need connection, change and confidence. Expert Lyn Roseaman of Toastmasters International shares light on how entrepreneurs can design and deliver important presentations and speeches that are both skillful and sincere.
You need to connect with your audience, whether they be investors, suppliers, your team etc. or you might as well be talking to yourself. And it needs to be genuine. If that connection feels inauthentic, people will be suspicious.
Picture yourself sitting in an audience. This applies whether the people are in the room with you, or sitting at their own computers at home having dialled in to listen to you. Your audience has set aside the time, maybe even spent money to attend. They are all wondering ‘What’s in it for me?’ As a speaker, it’s your job to answer that question. To do that, you need to ‘deep research’ your audience. It’s not just about their name and job title. Depending on whether you’re talking to a larger, conference-style audience or debriefing a project team via Zoom, key questions might cover the goals of the event, other speakers, audience profile, what they do/know/expect/how they talk and what do they most want from you.
‘The more you know about your audience, the stronger your ability to connect with them and influence their thinking and behaviour on their terms, i.e. answer their ‘What’s in it for me’ question.’
— Lyn Roseaman, author of ‘Now You’re Talking!’
And it’s not just about the content. Knowing your audience will also give you strong pointers about delivery – whether or not you need slides and how many, relevant stories you might include, appropriate levels of energy, vocal variety, body language and so on. And yes, body language still applies even if the audience can only see your head and shoulders via a video link.
A message that drives change
There is no point in speaking if you are only going to tell people what they already know. As an entrepreneur you are speaking to drive change of some kind.
Having researched your audience, you will have a good idea of what information and message they’ll value.
All too often, we confuse audiences because we start assembling content or making slides without even thinking about our message and its value to our listeners. When preparing a presentation, try starting at the end. What do you want your audience to think, feel or do differently after they’ve heard you talk? What is the single most important message you need them to take away? Jot it down in large letters in fewer than ten words and keep it visible. Any content you try to include that doesn’t support your message doesn’t belong in this particular talk or presentation.
Confidence matters because it is part of your authority and credibility as a speaker:
‘Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.’
— Samuel Johnson, English writer and lexicographer
If you don’t feel confident in what you have to say, then why should your audience? When audiences sense you’re nervous, they will get concerned. Confidence allows your listeners to relax and engage with what you have to say; your message, not how you’re feeling.
As an entrepreneur you may not have been a frequent speaker in the past. However, to build your skill and confident you need to become one. Take every opportunity to speak, be it to your team, in a video meeting, on the phone, in a pitch or presentation. Get comfortable with speaking and use the opportunity to practise different techniques, e.g. voice projection, storytelling, opening a speech with impact, etc. Invite people to give you specific feedback on what they liked and any improvements they would welcome to improve their experience.
We shouldn’t, however, assume being confident means being extrovert. Some entrepreneurs have said to me that they can’t be a good speaker because they are introverts and feel uncomfortable trying to create a high-energy, gregarious, perhaps larger-than-life version of themselves. Maintaining this persona is untenable and exhausting. It’s also unnecessary.
Public speaking isn’t about being a ‘big’ presence. When you are yourself and talking about something that matters to you and your audience, people will listen.
Of course, different audiences and speaking situations may well require a different speaking style. For instance, if you have a tech startup and tend to speak to a technical audience, they tend to favour visual aids and ‘data’ to support your message. That’s not to say that they don’t appreciate a story or anecdote, but they also value an evidence-based focus.
When your intention is to inspire, you probably need to share your story and invite your audience to adopt your experience and learnings into their own lives. In these situations, slides can be an obstacle and undermine the emotional connection of a story.
During a new business pitch, you obviously need to demonstrate your competence and vision, but also what it will be like to work with you, showing what the relationship would be like. It is after all often the nature of the future partnership, or investment that differentiates one offer from another.
Whatever style you deem appropriate to connect with, and delight, your audience, remaining ‘true to you’ is crucial. If you try to conceal the real you behind some persona, your audience will know and wonder what you’re hiding. So how do you remain authentic?
1. You care, we care
When you talk about something you care about, such as your startup vision, your personal passion and enthusiasm for your subject will shine through. If this is relevant to your audience, they will happily connect and engage with you. As far as possible, choose to talk about subjects that you care about, for example if you speak at conferences. Granted, this may not always be possible. In such situations, try to find angles that are important to you and matter to your listeners.
2. We love a good story
Storytelling dates back to prehistoric times when people shared stories around the campfire. Not only was this part of ‘belonging’, but also a way of staying together and safe within the group. Storytelling connects us as human beings. Opening a speech or presentation with a well-crafted and relevant personal story will captivate an audience. And because it’s personal, it’s authentic and uniquely yours to tell. Stories are also memorable and far more so than facts and figures. So, judiciously used stories and anecdotes that are relevant and presented in the appropriate speaking style for your audience are invaluable in making an impact as a startup founder.
3. Your voice
Your voice is part of who you are. Your accent is part of your identity. Authenticity is not about trying to hide or change your voice. It’s about being proud of your voice and learning how to use it effectively so that you bring both ease of understanding and interest to your listeners. If you stumble over certain words, don’t use them, or practise tongue twisters to make them easier to say. Think about the pace, pitch and volume of your voice and how to project it so that your words are clear, interesting and meaningful. Use pauses for impact or, for instance, to give your audience time to reflect on what you’re saying.
4. Your body doesn’t lie
If your words don’t match your facial expressions or hand gestures, audiences will believe what they see over what they hear:
‘When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another,
a practiced man relies on the language of the first.’
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist
You can finesse your body language for a presentation or speech. For instance, an excess of hand gestures and arm waving can become distracting; try dialling it down by letting your hands relax at your side from time to time. You want to use gestures and expressions that feel natural and reinforce your words and meaning. Be aware of your body language in everyday conversation and bring that authenticity to your speeches and presentations, scaling up or down for the size of your audience and the platform (scale it up for a large conference style, dial it down for a smaller video meeting).
5. Authenticity adds originality
Nowadays, we live in a world that values authenticity. We want to hear each other’s stories and we embrace vulnerability. The bonus of being authentic is that you don’t have to work out how to be someone you’re not. Furthermore, it often feels as if there is so much information available to us that it’s difficult to come up with something new and interesting to say. Being authentic in everything you say and do helps you come across as original and unique.
As a successful founder and the voice of your business enhancing your speaking skills is essential. Focus on authenticity and build your skills so you can always deliver your message clearly and sincerely.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lyn Roseaman is author of ‘Now You’re Talking! Take your speeches, talks and presentations to a wider audience and a bigger stage’ and a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org