This week’s blog is from Hannah Seigworth, wordsmith extraordinaire and budding professional public speaker. Hannah is one of those people you instantly feel like you’ve known all your life. Look her up at the next 1MC and you’ll see what I mean. Mentioning 1MC, read on as Hannah shares her learnings from stretching, talking and being in the spotlight! FYI – The Creative Coast’s blogspot is Savannah’s sounding board for local thinkers, innovators, wanderers and wonders. Guest bloggers share their thoughts, opinions and creative noodling from all over the map…
Brick walls and minimalist furniture. The smell and taste of artisanal coffee. The meeting of minds and the exchanging of business cards. This is 1 Million Cups Savannah.
For the last four weeks I’ve attended. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, from the coffee to the networking to the presentations to the feedback attendees give presenters. While, admittedly, some of the businesses presenting are not ones that I would normally take an interest in, I always come away having learned something. Sometimes it is a business process, such as how liquid fish fertilizer is made. (If you don’t know already, you probably don’t want to.)
Sometimes it’s a solution to a problem, such as a lawn service with lower-decibel equipment. (Hallelujah. There’s nothing worse than the sound of leaf blowers in close proximity at 8 in the morning.)
But after Week 3, I have learned something else. I can now say that I’ve learned what it’s like to be a presenter.
Public speaking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It certainly isn’t mine; I’ve always preferred coffee and anonymity. As a writer and introvert, I would much rather be observing and gleaning from the sidelines. But when you’re part of a start-up and the guy who was supposed to be presenting for your company can’t make it all of a sudden, you throw your hair in a bun, roll up your sleeves, and do what you gotta do.
As difficult as it was, here are three takeaways that made it all worth it. And because this is 1 Million Cups, these takeaways can be applied to small business practices . . . and honestly, life in general.
Takeaway 1: Thou shalt stretch thyself.
“Fail often so you can succeed sooner.” That is a quote by Tom Kelley. I have no idea who Tom is other than a partner at Ideo, but the quote is still a good one and can be applied to many areas of life. Public speaking, for example. The more I do it and the more I fail at it, the faster I can get better at it. (Although, disclaimer: “faster” and “sooner” are relative terms. I found that after four years of minoring in speech.)
Most people know that anything worth having is worth working for. To work for it, you must be open to getting outside your comfort zone. A lot. Your fear may not be the same as mine, but if you’re starting a business, you will eventually end up at that bridge and be forced to decide whether to cross.
The crossing may be hard. It may not yield the success that you hoped it would. But you will come out of it with knowledge you can throw in one of your baskets for later, even if it’s the “What Not to Do” Basket. Don’t ignore that one. It will come in handy more often than not.
Takeaway 2: Thou shalt empathize.
When you’ve been behind the podium and see just how quickly those 6 minutes go by, that experience creates a kind of kinship with future presenters. You’ve been there. You’ve done that. You know what it’s like.
I always heard from my mother growing up that “everyone should work in customer service for at least a year.” After working in various restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores during a span of 3 years, I finally understood what she meant.
You can sit back and criticize someone’s technique all day long, but until you’ve been in the weeds, have run out of everything from condiments to plates, don’t have time to roll silverware, and have had to deal with angry customers demanding that you comp their meal, you really have no room to judge a server’s performance. Conversely, when you have been in that position yourself, you usually end up having a lot more empathy for the person going through it. And tip more generously.
In the same way, entrepreneurial veterans know what it takes to get an idea off the ground. You’ve either been through the school of hard knocks, had excellent mentors along the way, or a little bit of both. Don’t be afraid to share that knowledge. But nicely. Even if “nicely” translates into “tough love.”
Takeaway 3: Thou shalt think on thy feet.
A time limit’s beauty and terror lies in your need to streamline. Get people to understand what the product or service does, what problem you are solving, what makes you stand out from your competitors – all within 6 minutes. Oh, and make it emotionally compelling. Then, be prepared to field whatever questions the audience might have about your business plan, your marketing plan, who your competitors are, and what other ideas you’ve considered.
Now, granted, the pitch is something you can usually practice ahead of time. The biggest aspect of public speaking that makes me want to dig a hole and bury myself is the Q & A time. Thinking on my feet has never been my strong point. Someone can ask me a question in front of a crowd, and not only will I have difficulty formulating an answer in a comprehensive manner, but I will also just as soon forget the question, meeting them with a blank stare rather than a competent response. But fortunately, with both time and practice in the form of interviews, speeches, and cold calling, I’ve gotten better at it. You can, too.
You might say that this takeaway harkens back to the first one, but it is slightly different for this reason: for people like me, to think on my feet is to be stretched, but for others, thinking on their feet comes naturally, and they must simply learn to hone that gift. Instead of conquering a fear, they are improving their presentation. Why say too much when simple will suffice? Takeaway 3 boils down to this: we can all grow.
In summary, do more speeches. Know your business. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something and ask for help. As Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” That power might be your business becoming globally renowned and financially successful. Sometimes, however, that power is just surviving a speech long enough to blog about it.