No matter how introverted or shy you may be, chances are pretty good that at some point in your life you will have to talk to people. That is, people other than your immediate friends, family, and your teachers.
That’s why young entrepreneurs need to learn the art of public speaking. Effective communication is a skill that can be learned and practiced over time. It will help you in other areas besides entrepreneurship. Public speaking skills leak out into your everyday life and make you better at talking in general. No more fidgeting or filler words such as “um” or “like.” Your confidence will grow as you learn how to think on your feet and present a well-crafted statement no matter how you feel on the inside.
Statistically speaking (no pun intended), if you’re not thrilled about giving a talk in public, you’re not alone. Fear of public speaking affects 73% of the population! That’s more people afraid of public speaking than of death, spiders, or heights!
Young entrepreneurs need to overcome this fear for several reasons:
- Pitching to potential investors
- Presenting your ideas for competitions
- Explaining your results
- Selling your product or service
In other words, you’re going to have to buckle down and get to it. But we’ve got your back. Here are some tried-and-true tips for overcoming stage fright and crushing it as a public speaker.
*BEFORE YOU START*
> It’s a Process
You didn’t leap from learning the alphabet to writing a dissertation on Shakespeare overnight. You’re not going to become a great communicator overnight, either. If you know you have to speak in public ahead of time, start practicing right now. Give yourself the advantage of time to nail this down as much as possible. You’re not aiming for perfection. The goal here is simply to feel more comfortable than you do right now.
> Practice, Practice, Practice
This advice works for pretty much anything, and public speaking is no exception. Practice reading out loud what you are going to say. Say it in front of a mirror. Say it in front of friends and family. Record yourself and watch the playback to notice where you should be more emphatic, talk more slowly, or stop fidgeting. Once again, the goal is not perfection. But practice over and over until standing up and saying your piece becomes like muscle memory. This way when the time comes you can switch your brain to autopilot if you need to do so.
> Visualize Your Success
Imagine yourself standing in front of a crowd and giving your speech. What are you wearing? How’s your hair? What are you doing with your hands? Are you slouched over or standing up tall and proud?
How’s the crowd? Can you see their faces?
Now imagine them applauding what a great job you did!
You know that old saying, “Fake it ‘till you make it.” Now’s a great time to put that to work for you!
> Get Professional Help
Organizations such as Toastmasters International have programs specifically designed to help young entrepreneurs learn how to communicate better. Check your local community college for night classes on how to give speeches. Does your school have a debate team? If so, that’s a great way to learn how to present yourself with confidence and speak with authority.
> Be Prepared
While you don’t need to write down your speech word-for-word, at the very least you should have some bullet points you can follow. Make sure you include the most important parts of whatever you are trying to say. For example, potential investors will probably want to know your business plan and timeline, while customers are interested in how your product will make their lives easier or happier.
Of course, you may prefer to memorize a speech, and that works fine, too!
> Calm Your Nerves
Before you hit the stage (or convention floor or judges’ table or front of the classroom), take a deep breath, shake out your hands, give your back a quick stretch, and focus. Do you have a mantra? Whisper it to yourself while looking in the mirror. Favorite song? Crank it. Download a free meditation app and use it to clear your mind of negative thoughts. Detox with a glass of cold water and some fresh air if you can.
*DURING YOUR SPEECH*
> Make Eye Contact
Relax, we’re not saying you must look each audience member in the eyes until you all become uncomfortable. Mostly just don’t stare at your notecards the entire time you’re speaking. Or at your feet. Look at your audience while you talk. Glancing at your notes is fine, even expected. Try not to read from them without ever looking up, though.
> Slow Down and Take Deep Breaths
We all tend to talk fast when we’re nervous. This is why it’s important to relax before you go out there to speak. And to practice. Remember when we mentioned recording yourself? Doing so will help you notice if you’re rushing through what you need to say or not.
No one will care if you stop to inhale deeply or take a sip of water. That’s much better than rushing through so no one can understand you!
> Project Your Voice
Stop mumbling! There are old theater tricks that suggest speaking to the back of the room. Try it. If you don’t have a mic, you’ll especially need to project your voice so that everyone can hear you. If you do have a mic, learn where to hold it in relation to your mouth so that your words come across crisp and clean. Speak with authority. Enunciate. Own your words!
> Stop Fidgeting!
Find something to do with your hands that’s not wringing them together, cracking your knuckles, worrying at the hem of your shirt, or tearing the edges of your notecards. If you have a podium, rest your hands there. If it’s just you, find the happy medium between wild gesticulations and standing uncomfortably still. Don’t pick at your skin. Don’t sway side to side. And definitely don’t check your phone!
> Consider Your Audience
Pitching your business idea to a room full of adult investors will require different words, outfits, and presentation styles than, say, addressing a crowd of families at a fundraiser. Double-check that what you plan to say will land the way you intend it to land with your audience.
Even though it may be intimidating at first, the more you practice effective communication and public speaking, the better you’ll get at it. Pretty soon you’ll be working crowds like a pro!
If you are a high school student in Florida with a passion for entrepreneurship, click here to find out more about the Kantner Foundation’s college scholarship program.