by Nina Post
Sometimes I hang out and answer questions over at inbound.org, and one of the skills I have listed in my profile is speaking. I've done enough public speaking that it was reflexive to include it, but I'll admit that I'm out of practice.
When you don't get public speaking practice in between speaking events, it makes it much harder to be comfortable with those events. And what do you say to yourself every time? "I really have to get some practice."
And when you're an entrepreneur, you're constantly pitching to some audience, either one-on-one or to a group, like a pitch competition or a demo day. You need frequent practice, and what's offered isn't enough.
So whether you're an entrepreneur or just want to get more facile with public speaking, you need consistent, weekly practice in between events. But how do you get that?
1) The first thing to remember is that you don't need to be someone else, and you don't "conquer" your fear. You manage it and get enough practice that you can work through it.
When you're at a pitch competition or any other event where you're speaking, it can feel like you're addressing coyotesthat want to devour you. You think that everyone in the audience hates your guts, couldn't care less about you or your company, and can't wait until you get out of their sight—especially next to the extrovert, who may as well be David Copperfield or Tony Robbins for their ability to bewitch the audience. Or at least it feels that way.
But you don't have to be like them. All you need to be is capable, and make sure people can hear and understand you. The rest will come in time -- if you practice.
2) Look for any opportunity in your area: pitch competitions, local co-working spaces, and Toastmasters.
If you're participating in a pitch or business plan competition, you should ask if there any opportunities to get feedback on your pitch in a non-competitive environment.
Check co-working spaces in your area. You don't necessarily need a full membership—you might need only a one-day-a-week pass, or a pass for a few days a month. There are a lot of different variations, so see if the ones near you offer non-competitive practice sessions.
Galvanize has the Pitchers & Pitches competition, but I've never seen anything in local co-working spaces that mentions smaller, non-competitive pitch practice with peers. (I thought about starting one myself.)
Another option is Toastmasters, but it costs money to be a member, and there probably aren't many other entrepreneurs in the group. Plus, the locations tend to be... not ideal. But if you're so inclined, you could see where and when local public groups hold meetings, and go check one out. There's no charge for sitting in to see if it's right for you.
4) Your best bet for getting pitch practice is to contact a few other founders you're friends with or know of and see if they're interested in starting a pitch practice group. Competitions aren't frequent enough to get the kind of practice you need to become more facile at public speaking.
If you're not an entrepreneur, you could still try this option. I can tell you that there are very few good options in Seattle, and that smaller pitch practice meetups (or any smaller public speaking meetups) are desperately needed. I'm sure that's the case by you, too.
You could meet at someone's house each time, or in a reserved room at a co-working space. You can build connections with other founders and get much-needed practice with going through your slides and pitch. You could also put up a flyer at co-working spaces and university business schools to promote your pitch meetup to find more interested people.
Each public speaking opportunity helps you refine what you're saying. With enough practice, you no longer worry if you can do it—it just becomes a matter of how well you're going to do. You can't guarantee you'll do an awesome job, but you know you'll do a decent job. You get comfortable with your baseline, and that's a great asset to bring with you to future pitches.
The important thing is to take action and practice. If you can't find enough opportunities to get public speaking / pitch practice, create one—and help some other people in a similar situation.
pics by Unsplash