Maintaining your business and building it in the current situation is challenge even for the most steadfast entrepreneur. Business growth may have halted and the founders of startups will may have had to radically alter their plans. As entrepreneurs one of the key tools at your disposal is communicating with what I describe as ‘Confidence, Connection and a message that drives Change’. In today’s environment this means taking on the challenge of speaking powerfully online.
Standout speaking online brings challenges that even seasoned speakers are grappling with. So, let’s look at ways you can express your entrepreneurial drive and enthusiasm for your business when connecting with investors, customers and suppliers online.
I’ve been doing pitches and giving talks and presentations in workshops, debrief meetings and conferences since the 1980s and I was the terrified person clinging to the lectern so you couldn’t see my hands shaking. I was petrified and the nerves would not go away. I felt so alone. I didn’t realise at the time that nerves are normal:
“There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars” (Mark Twain)
Feeling nervous is part of being human. It’s our brain’s way of keeping us safe, but it makes our audience feel uncomfortable and concerned for our wellbeing. Online, they may choose to abandon us and stop listening.
This is the last thing we need. As entrepreneurs want our key audience members to be focused on what we’re saying and engaging with our message. To achieve this, we need to bring confident energy to the screen. Here’s how.
Get ready for your close up
Right now many entrepreneurs will be going online from home, it’s easy to overlook your familiar surroundings – what can your audience see and hear and is it what you want them to see and hear? What’s on the walls and behind you that the camera will pick up? Are there people or sounds that may interrupt your talk or meeting? Is the space you’ve chosen sending out the message you intend? Unless you have a food related startup the kitchen is probably not the ideal room to set up your camera.
Think about being online as having a close up. You’re on the small screen and the camera will pick up every detail, expression and gesture. Is your lighting setting you off to best advantage? Is the light behind the camera so that you’re not plunged into shadow? Is dazzling sunshine making you squint or bouncing flare onto your face, especially if you wear glasses? Capture a photo/screenshot before you go live to make sure you’re representing your brand appropriately.
Handling the technology smoothly
Having to work with technology while presenting can be stressful, particularly if you are a starup founder talking to investors! Online, we need to convey a feeling of calm and control when we host a meeting or event, handle technology and ensure everything runs smoothly.
In spite of doing all the appropriate tech checks, things can still go wrong. And people accept that this can happen. What’s important is that you handle it calmly and efficiently, explaining what’s happening. And even better if you find someone (at a safe distance) to take care of the tech for you.
Body language and confident energy
Think of all the non-verbal ways you can convey confident energy online:
- It is hard to smile in a genuine way when you’re nervous, so smiling conveys confidence.
- A posture that is relaxed and assured. If you’re seated, push your bottom to the back of the chair and sit upright, both feet firmly planted on the floor. This will help to keep your posture stable and prevent any distracting swaying backwards and forwards.
- On the small screen reduce your gestures. Big gestures work in a large venue but online they can be distracting or disappear off the edge of the screen.
- Steady eye contact and the correct positioning of your camera lens at just above eye level helps you to come across as open and sincere.
- So close to the mic, people may hear your nerves in your voice. By breathing into your abdomen and relaxing your upper body you will create a rich vocal tone. Shallow breathing high in the chest is hard work and can make you sound as if you’re about to burst into tears.
When I think back to my first conference presentations, I like to believe I gave a polished presentation, complete with comprehensive facts and figures, clear slides and an informative commentary. My audiences would applaud politely, thank me and head for the coffee! At the time, I always wondered why other speakers had people queueing up to talk to them. I felt as if I’d been talking to myself. And, online, you may be doing just that if your listeners don’t connect with you and what you’re saying – even if your startup’s product or service is exactly what they need.
Those with people queueing up to talk to them had connected, both in terms of the value the speaker gave to the audience – their relevant message – and the way the speaker made them feel:
What’s In It For Me?
As an entrepreneur hosting a webinar, or giving a presentation at an online event, it’s your responsibility to know what your listeners are expecting from you, i.e. answering their all-important ‘What’s In It For Me’ question – as quickly as possible – so that they have a reason to carry on listening. To achieve this, you need to know your participants and I don’t just mean their name and job titles. Find out as much as you can about them i.e. what makes them tick, as well as their individual roles and responsibilities.
‘You’ is the magic word
‘You’ is the magic word when it comes to being relevant and engaging online. In the English language, ‘you’ power comes from being both singular – a one-to-one conversation – and plural, including everyone. You-focused language creates a strong feeling of inclusivity and, at the same time, offers up a personal connection with each and every listener.
Barack Obama understood the power of ‘you’. In his 2012 presidential election victory speech, he used the personal pronoun ‘I’ 36 times. In stark contrast, he used ‘you/you’re/your’ 55 times and ‘we/us/our’ 97 times.
If you can take things a step further and create a sense of ‘we’re in this together’ in terms of encouraging interaction between presenter and the other meeting participants, then you hit a ‘sweet spot’. However, to ensure things run smoothly, it’s important online to manage proceeding so that people listen to each other and not all talk at the same time!
Dial down the PowerPoints and share a story
Storytelling comes into its own online. Human beings are hard wired to respond to stories and they can be relevant in a startup founder’s pitch to investors as well as other business presentations.
When we tell a relevant personal story, openly and honestly, our listeners can relate to us as people. Stories not only create connections, but they are both engaging and memorable.
In her book ‘Now You’re Talking!’ Lyn Roseaman observes:
“Engaging speakers share their message through stories. They can move an audience, even in business settings, to feel, laugh or cry, and are memorable for all the right reasons.”
In stark contrast, sharing your screen and wading through bullet points is neither engaging nor memorable and fast-track to losing your listeners. I recommend that all entrepreneurs prioritise relevant storytelling at every opportunity.
In the words of John F Kennedy (US President, 1961-63), “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.”
With our world currently turned on its head, online meetings, events and conversations are our opportunity to keep ourselves and our startups or growth businesses visible.
Your new and relevant message
In a few keystrokes, search engines can tell us what’s new and different online. If we want to stand out and keep our listeners interested we need to ensure what we have to say is relevant and on-point.
For any important meeting of course all entrepreneurs will prepare! When you do make sure you consider how you want your audience to feel, how you want them to think and what you want them to do after the event. Doing this will help you to Identify your message and make it targeted and relevant to now. Once you have your message you can make sure you only cover content that directly supports it.
Make it easy for your audience
Our attention spans are short at the best of times. Online, there is even less appetite for asides and digressions than when you’re in the same room as your listeners, so it’s crucial to get to the point and stay relevant. Less is most definitely more online.
Structure and signpost your talk so that it is easy to understand and follow. Consider a clear structure, such as a timeline, pros & cons, hero’s journey, etc. Break up your presentation into small ‘chunks’ of around five minutes each and top and tail each chunk with what you plan to cover and a keyword to sum it up as you move on to the next chunk. Signpost what you have to say to let your audience know the ‘road map’ or agenda for your talk to make it clear and easy to follow.
Conducting key business meetings online is something that all entrepreneurs can expect more of from now on. To represent your brand and yourself, to shine online, the skills outlined here need to be constantly honed so your presentation of your message stays fresh and on point.
Lyn Roseaman is a Distinguished Toastmaster at 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.