Writing in The Atlantic in 2014, Paul Barnwell remarked: “Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain confident, coherent conversation?” At the time, Barnwell was commenting on the inability of his students to speak clearly and confidently in public, having noticed that they spent much of their time with their necks craned to their phone. But Barnwell’s observations apply to the business world too. In a society where a second screen is never far from hand, the ability to command a room, to speak with clarity, and to project one’s ideas is more valuable than ever, in part because it’s rare.
The conference speaking circuit is proof that we’re still willing to listen, provided the content is compelling. And as the owner of an SME, you’re in the prime position to engage people with your ideas, your experiences, your life learnings. Public speaking is an excellent way to get noticed. While the likes of TED and TEDx (independently organized but officially ratified offshoots of the real thing) forbid obvious self-promotion, they present a platform tailor-made to sell yourself. By proxy, you’re promoting your business too.
Here’s why you should embrace public speaking in 2018.
You can nominate yourself as a speaker
You don’t need to be Tony Robbins to join the TED speaking circuit. Individuals can nominate themselves via the ted.com website. Don’t believe us? Take a look here.
You’ve got wisdom to impart
The big misconception is that you don’t have anything valuable to say. But that’s wrong, isn’t it? As the owner of an SME, you’ve travelled a road lined with learnings, enduring the bumps along the way.
The big mistake is to tell everyone how great you are. As Chris Anderson, founder of TED puts it, "If the idea only serves you or your organization, then, I'm sorry to say, it's probably not worth sharing."
The middle ground? Impart honest wisdom and you’ll find a captive audience. It could be something as innocuous as the way you work. Take this awesome video for example: Joel Friedlaender is the founder of a business over in Australia, and for 30 minutes he talks about the way his company eschews the 9-5 for a flexible working day where any hours go, and holiday-time is totally unlimited. In effect, he’s promoting his business as a great place to work, without ever needing to explicitly say it.
Topics can be almost anything
Conferences want variety, and that means that no topic is off limits. The simplest most innocuous ideas are often the best. Those truisms we’ve all encountered but never articulated? That’s a good start.
Tips for speaking well in public
Stick to the time limit
Almost all public speaking platforms will ask you to stick to a strict time limit (TED specifies eighteen minutes), and in many cases you’re going to need to hit that mark within a matter of seconds. In effect? Practice with a timer. A lot of speakers also advise not being too precious about your topic. If you need to slow the pace or cut entire sections to meet the time limit, do it. No one in the audience will be any the wiser.
Don’t memorize words
Unless you’re reading from a script (and reading from a script is an absolute no-no unless you’re a head of state or a newsreaders), it’s a mistake to try and memorize a presentation word for word. Any minute, you’re liable to make a mistake and send your whole spiel tumbling over a precipice. Instead, actually think about what you’re trying to say and understand the topic really well.
Practice doesn’t hurt either. Hotshot speakers typically recommend taking 60 minutes to hone a single minute of a speech. That means a ten-minute presentation will take ten hours of preparation. But it’s worth it. Consider this: a speech that’s filmed with live online for a lifetime. That’s a new business tool you can dine out on anytime you like.
Listen to yourself speak
A good tip is to record yourself practicing. Then, when you’ve got a spare minute in the car on the way to work, listen to the recording. The more familiar you become with the sound of your own voice, the more you’ll be able to critically discern where you’re excelling and where you’re going wrong. It also means that, come the day of the actual presentation, the sound of your own voice won’t be jarring.
Let people get accustomed to your voice early on
On the day of the speech, start slowly. Don’t jump into your topic at the speed of light. You need to let people get adjusted to your voice, your cadence, your rhythm first.
And most of all? Enjoy yourself. Public speaking is often cited as one of our biggest fears, but turn those negative nerves into positive energy and let yourself go. A simple mindset shift will make all the difference. Stop worrying about making a mistake, and start thinking about how you can help an audience better themselves. Along the way, the audience might just take a shine to you and your business as well.