Public speaking doesn't come naturally to most founders, but luckily, it's a skill that can be learned. YouInc spoke to three Canadian entrepreneurs about how they've learned to speak with confidence, whether educating friends and family, capturing the interest of investors, or instilling trust in customers through a crisis. Their reflections are relevant as the entrepreneurial community works through the uncertainty of COVID-19:
‘Don’t Try To Fake It’
Jamie Ayles, founder, Bow Valley BBQ
Former job: Chef
Location: Canmore, Alberta
Years in business: 6
I had a secure, well-paying job in the food and hospitality industry. I had to quit my job and go on employment insurance, as part of the federal government business program I qualified for. The program allowed you to make revenue based on what you were doing for the business and also collect your minimum employment insurance. That was our first business plan and the first time I had to speak about a company and a business model in front of others.
I realized quickly that as long as I believed in what I was saying and I could back it up, then public speaking would come easy. I learned early on that faking it didn’t work out well for me. The first and only time I tried to memorize everything, versus being real and in the moment, I totally bombed. The slideshow didn’t work, and we only had two minutes to talk and it was the worst public speaking I’ve done.
Be yourself and don’t try to be what you think you should be. You’re not supposed to be the person you’re pitching; you’re supposed to be the person you believe in. It’s easy to overthink and over complicate it, and lose sight of the fact that if someone is going to invest, it’s because they’re investing in you.
‘Always Come Back To Your Purpose’
Amy Hall, founder, Goldilocks Sustainable Goods
Former job: Event and marketing coordinator
Location: Victoria, British Columbia
Years in business: 3.5
Speaking about my business - the vision for the company and what I wanted to accomplish - started when I met Brett, my business partner. We spent a day making wraps and he asked a lot of questions about the logistics of the business, while I told him about my vision for the company and what I wanted to accomplish. Speaking with him felt natural because I was sharing my story and my passion. Several years after that first conversation, those were still the key points I wanted to make when presenting at the Telus Pitch contest. I wanted people to feel my passion for what I do and understand why I care.
I learned how connected the story of my business was to my own personal journey. I get uptight and stumble over my words when I feel I have to speak from a business perspective. I’ve always preferred writing to public speaking, but realizing that I’m speaking about myself and how I want to affect the world was a big ‘aha’ moment. That’s made talking about the business easier.
Always come back to your purpose. Ask yourself, what impact do you want to have? Why did you start your business in the first place? Not only will this leave a lasting impression on those you are speaking with, but it will also help to calm your nerves as you remember the bigger picture and get to the core of what you do.
‘Remain Calm and Level-headed’
Phil Cutler, founder and CEO, Paper
Former job: teacher
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Years in business: 6
The theatrical piece of being a teacher comes in handy when I need to give large presentations. When we started the business, I had to pitch in front of 500 people. That experience felt the same as walking into the classroom, addressing my students, and allowing them to capture the ideas of a lesson plan.
You have to constantly reflect on your performance. Teaching taught me to reflect on your lessons - identify five to six things that went well and what you could improve on. I had to reflect in the early days of pitching and I still do. Ask yourself, what were their buying signals? Were there things you said that were interesting to the investors? Were there things where they zoned out? How can you change the narrative to focus on more of the things they’re interested in and less of the things they don’t care about?
Through COVID-19, our team can best support our customers by hearing a calming voice that’s like, “don’t worry. There’s a lot of stuff going on. You need to worry about your students.” There’s a lot of things on their mind. Let’s take one thing off. Let’s make sure they know they can count on us. That goes a long way, especially in a crisis.
To communicate with confidence, remain calm and level-headed. Try to avoid knee-jerk reactions. You’re going to get a ton of people telling you what they think you should be doing. It’s good to collect that feedback and distill, but you know what’s best for your business. Things are moving quickly but you need to be able to use sound judgement.
To stay calm, be intentional. I’ve played sports my whole life. When the game is on the line and you’re going to be asked to make a play, you have to concentrate and focus your attention and energy on what needs to be done. That means drowning out the distractions and noise around you. You have to cognitively tell yourself you’re not going to allow yourself to get distracted and freak out. It’s more natural to some than others.