As a small business owner, the chances are it falls on you to do the talking. Even in the digital world, selling your services in person is a big part of your success, but not everyone feels confident doing it. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, public speaking anxiety affects around three-quarters of the population, and in all likelihood not many of the others relish it either.
Whether it’s standing up at a networking event, hosting a media launch, or pitching to investors, your goal is to engage, inspire, and motivate, so that your audience sees the value. It might not come naturally, but there are techniques you can learn to build confidence and take the pain out of speaking in public.
Prepare an Elevator Pitch
It’s easy to get caught off guard when asked to describe your company, however, it’s critical to making new connections. That’s why having an elevator pitch at the ready can make all the difference. An “elevator pitch” quickly describes what you offer (ideally in less than a minute) and prompts the listener to find out more. Start by highlighting a problem, for example, “many recruiters don’t spend enough time matching the needs of the job to the skills of the candidate” and describe how your business can solve it. Then summarise your services, include any USPs, and mention your successes.
The relationship between positive thinking and performance has gained a lot of credibility over recent years and visualisation can be a powerful tool before making a speech. Although, it’s not as easy as imagining a positive outcome, you need to play out the steps to success. This is where “process visualisation” comes in. Go somewhere quiet and clear your mind. Picture yourself preparing the speech, walking on stage and making the introductions, watching the audience’s reactions, as well as preempting any problems that may arise (maybe you get asked a difficult question?). Lastly, let yourself experience the feeling of a fantastic response. Repeat this process as much as possible and you’re bound to feel more comfortable doing it for real.
Play to Your Audience
How you communicate should depend on who’s listening; for instance, the media will want different things to your consumers. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of regurgitating the same message to everyone just because you think it’s the most important. Consider what the individual audience wants, how can your business help them, what concerns might they have, what motivates them, and how do you want them to feel after you’ve left? Taking people’s needs into account ahead of time will boost your credibility and help maintain their attention.
How we breathe can have a huge effect on stress levels and taking a moment to reconnect with your breath makes it easier to cope in a challenging situation. When we’re anxious, we breathe faster and less deeply, which means oxygen can’t circulate as well and the feelings of fear are intensified. Inhale slowly through the nose right from the bottom of your lungs, hold it for a few seconds and exhale through the mouth. By practicing this technique daily in the run up to a presentation you will find it easier to stay calm when the moment arrives. There are also some great apps to help manage anxiety such as Inner Balance, Anxiety Free, and Breathe2relax. Once you’ve mastered the basics you can take it the next level and use breathing techniques to improve delivery and engage your audience even more.
Be the Expert
When it comes to talking about your own business, remember that you’re the expert. You’re talking about what you know and you have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips, not to mention passion. If you’re working with PowerPoint, keep slides as simple as possible. The words are there as a prompt and to get the audience interested in everything you have to say, whereas trying to read from text heavy slides is a surefire way to induce boredom. Likewise, don’t be afraid of ad-libbing. As long as you’re comfortable with the topic, don’t feel pressured to memorise things word for word. Use anecdotes and keep it natural, but do remember to inject plenty of enthusiasm and energy when you’re speaking. You’ve done the hard work getting this far, now’s your chance to get others excited about it too.