I thought I’d tackle a common cause of fear among business owners, and that’s public speaking. Most of us have financial goals for ourselves this year. As business owners, achieving those goals probably involves expanding our brand awareness. It’s tough to make money when not enough people know your business exists. It’s not just introverts who shy away from public speaking. Many naturally outgoing people also fear potential public embarrassment. So I’m going to give you a few suggestions to get you on a public speaking path.
A good preliminary strategy is to seek out smaller, more intimate environments where you can practice and gain confidence. If you belong to a networking group (which I highly recommend), offer to serve on the leadership team or on a committee where you’ll present reports to your group on a regular basis. I joined a BNI chapter years ago when I first started my practice. Having to stand up and speak for a minute or so in front of my group every week did wonders for my confidence.
Once you’ve had a chance to practice your public speaking in a familiar group, branch out a little. If you belong to a larger professional organization, ask if you can make a short presentation to the members. Lots of associations are looking for useful information and expertise that benefits their members. They usually have opportunities to present individually or to serve on a panel of speakers on a topic relevant to their organization. Serving on a panel is another way to more comfortably grow accustomed to being on stage, since you won’t be solely in the spotlight.
Another low-risk idea is to introduce the key speaker or panel, so you have time in front of an audience without having to be the focus. Again, this is about gaining a comfort level and a natural public presence. If you already feel that you possess that, by all means ask to be the key speaker! And feel free to seek out invitations to speak to groups you don’t belong to, but where your product or service is relevant to their industry. For example, I knew an independent insurance broker who received an invitation to present to the professional organization for residential property managers. She focused on a timely topic for them and, as a result, she wrote several pieces of new business and continues to receive their referrals.
My last piece of advice about public speaking is very personal. I used to find public speaking unnerving because I was more focused on blundering and embarrassing myself than on my audience. So one day before a presentation, I just found myself tired of making myself so nervous. I closed my eyes and imagined swiveling the spotlight around so instead of it being on me it shone out on the audience. It was an instant reminder that I was there to be of service, nothing more. I had valuable information and expertise to share that could make something a little bit better for someone in that audience. My one and only job was to give it to them. Once I had that firmly in my mind, my anxiety ever since has been replaced by an excitement to share and to be part of other people’s journey.