Speaking at a public event about a topic you know gives you instant street cred within your industry. Unfortunately for many people, this presents a big problem. According to a recent Washington Post article, American’s biggest fear is speaking in public. If you are part of that statistic, I have some bad news for you. To be an entrepreneur, speaking in public is going to need to be a skill that you need to master. Especially if you are ever have hopes of pitching to a large room full of Angels or VCs to raise capital.
I can typically tell when someone is uncomfortable when speaking to an audience – they tend to rush through their lines, fidget with their hands, stay unmovable behind the podium, read text directly from slides, and avoid eye contact with the audience. You better believe that Angels and VCs will absolutely be able to pick up on these kind of behaviors and lose confidence in any entrepreneur displaying these traits.
The best way to hone your public speaking skills is to practice. As such, I highly recommend joining an organization like Toastmasters. They are a national group with over 300,000 members that encourages members to give speeches, get feedback and lead teams which ultimately helps provide you the experience need to master public speaking. You can also practice speaking at home. One if the best ways is to record yourself using your webcam or smartphone. When done, play back the video. Watching yourself speak is kind of surreal but it really helps to hone your skills.
Landing a Speaking Gig
- Once you have developed some basic speaking skills by practicing alone and in groups, I suggest that you begin speaking (for free) at relevant industry events, local chambers of commerce and industry associations.What you need to do is network with the event coordinators and ask them if you can present a relevant topic during their event.
- When you do land a speaking gig, make sure bring along a friend that will post pictures or video of you speaking to social media. You have to create your own marketing buzz and this is really the best way to do so. Make sure you leverage Twitter and Instagram as these posts will likely be picked up by search engines further helping to drive up the search results for your name.
- I highly recommend telling a story during your presentation. This is sometimes one of the best ways to engage an audience in your pitch.
- It is expected that you memorize what you are going to say. One of the worst presentations I ever saw was where an entrepreneur had his back to the audience and was literally reading word-for-word what was on the screen.
- Practice to where you have the whole presentation memorized. You will need a few days to do this. You need to nail down flow, slide transitions, timing, clarity of concepts and the story.
- Make sure to project your voice so that those in the back rows can hear it clearly.
- Use your hands to emphasize important points during the presentation.
- Remember to breathe. SLOWWW down your pitch when you get to complicated details. This will help with comprehension. When you are telling a story, you can speed it up a bit. Just keep in mind that most people are nervous are nervous about presenting and tend to blaze through the entire presentation quickly. This is a mistake. Take your time on the points that matter and modify your pace as needed.
- When presenting, make sure to make eye contact with the audience members – focus on one person for a point, then move on to another person when making another point. This will allow you to connect with your audience at a deeper level.
- When something goes wrong with your presentation, don’t stop and acknowledge it. Simply continue on. Recognizing an issue with the audience and apologizing for it will derail your presentation.
- I don’t recommend giving a handout to the audience. This will keep their eyes off of you and on a piece of paper in front of them. You should be the focus of their attention at all times.
- Do NOT use a monotone voice! Make sure to vary your pitch and pace to keep the audience interested at all times. Your pitch should exude passion. It is literally contagious!
- I would advise you against standing behind the podium as it creates a physical barrier between you and the audience. Walk around the room when pitching. If the microphone is on the pedestal, see if you can remove it and walk around the room. Just make sure you aren’t pacing back and forth as that could prove to be a distraction. Believe it or not, doing so cuts investor fatigue. This keeps them engaged.
- If you are using a microphone, keep it close to your mouth at all times. Some people inexperienced with microphones tend it hold it at stomach level which makes the presentation extremely difficult to hear for the audience.
- Follow the rules for the KISS principle – Keep it Simple, Stupid. What I mean by this is to keep your language and graphics simple – don’t distract your audience with fancy graphics or vocabulary. In many cases, I have presented to foreigners where English wasn’t their first language. What I learned was that many times my jokes or fancy vocabulary went right over their heads. Don’t let that happen to you.
- Don’t use filler words including ‘ums’, ‘ahs’, ‘likes’ or ‘you know’s during the pitch.
- Finally, if anything goes wrong during your presentation – the computer freezes, the power goes out or the presenter remote doesn’t work, don’t try to fix it right then and there. You will waste valuable time. Set everything aside and complete your presentation without those tools.
- Try to get the audience to laugh at least once. However, don’t make it a comedy routine.
When Speaking with a Slide Deck
- Pictures are far more memorable than words. Think about how Steve Jobs pitched his products vs. Bill Gates. Take a look at their slide decks behind them. Just by looking at these images which presentation do you think is more effective?
- If you use a slide deck, keep in mind that you don’t have to repeat word-for-word exactly what you have on the slide. In fact, it’s a lot better if you don’t. It’s also fine to have content on your slides that you don’t mention in your pitch and vice-versa.
- The slides presented should be mostly visual. Use pictures to tell the story you are taking the audience through. As such, you absolutely want to minimize the amount of clutter you have on the slides. In today’s day in age, less is more. Try not to use more than 5 bullets per slide and no more than 5 words per bullet. Keep in mind, these do not have to be grammatically correct fully structured sentences. Single words are OK!
- When choosing a font and color for the text on screen, make sure that you use a color that stands out from the background of the slide. Imagine you are looking at the screen from 50+ feet away. Will it be legible to those people in the back of the audience? Also make sure to keep your choice of fonts, line spacing and colors consistent. There should be one common graphical ‘theme’ throughout the entire presentation.
- I would highly recommend that you buy the images you use from a stock photography website as they will be of very high quality which will make your presentation stand out.
- Put too much information/text on the screen at one time. 5 bullet points maximum with 5 words each.
- Don’t use live videos or demos. These hardly ever work during actual presentations due to the incompatibilities of operating systems, as well as presentation hardware. Typically they only serve as a distraction. Avoid this at ALL costs.
- Don’t ever turn your back to the audience to look at your slide deck. You should just be able to glance at it and know where you are in your pitch.
- Try not to use any fancy slide transitions, animations or sound effects in your presentation. These just serve as a distraction. Plus, if you built your presentation on one operating system and the presenting OS is different these transitions could “break” your presentation.
- This might seem trivial but make sure that your presentation deck is less than 5mb. If your file size is any larger it is going to prove difficult to send over email.
- Once you are done drafting your document, you may want to consider saving it as a PDF. This way, you’re formatting stays consistent across all devices.
Before Your Presentation
- Arrive at least 20 to 30 minutes early. This will give you a chance to test the presentation equipment, connect to Wi-Fi and work out any last minute kinks.
- Bring your own wireless presenter device (with extra batteries). You may also prefer to use your own if they allow it. A number of times I have seen speakers fumble with an unknown presenter device and have it devastate their presentation flow.
- Absolutely take your laptop (and it’s charger) with you. Do this just in case the computer that is being used to show your presentation falters, you will be able to save the day. This actually happened to one of the companies I mentored. When we arrived at his pitch event, the laptop computer being used to control the projector died. Our team simply swapped it out with their own laptop and was able to save the day for all the other presenting companies.
- If you are using a MAC they typically have funky connectors on them requiring you to have adapters in order to connect them to projectors and monitors. Make sure you keep feeding the Apple machine buy bringing those (expensive) dongles with you.
- I would also suggest taking a USB flash drive that contains the presentation. You never know if the file you sent over email gets corrupted or the computer they are using crashes as I mentioned previously. Basically, always have a plan B AND C hardware when presenting!
- Turn OFF your phone! Even though I once put my phone on mute and had it in my jacket pocket, the buzzing has disrupted my flow of thought and it absolutely messing me up a few times. Before you pitch, turn your phone completely off or use airplane mode.
- Finally, if you are using your own laptop connected to the projector, close down the email, skype, and any other applications that might provide you with a pop-up or notification during your pitch. The last thing you want is your mother to call you on Skype while you are pitching to a group of investors.
- I recently read a great book by Oren Klaff called Pitch Anything. It truly was a great book and I believe has helped me with my pitching abilities.
- If you have the time, I highly recommend you check out Steve Job’s iPhone Introduction from 2007. He does a masterful job with his slide deck that has now become the standard by which most presentations are judged.