Over the past decade, I have written countless articles on how to raise capital. I have taught thousands of entrepreneurs how to create a great business plan, how to develop a strong financial model, and ways to devise a slide presentation that gets investors excited.
And then, I have written extensively about how to grow your company once you have raised capital. Discussing how to motivate your employees to maximize their effectiveness. And how to find partners that can take your business to the next level.
But there's one thing I haven't written about. One thing that I've totally neglected. And this one thing can increase your effectiveness at ALL of these activities - from raising capital to performing all the tasks needed to grow your successful business.
For this I apologize.
So what is this one thing?
The answer is public speaking, and your ability to communicate ideas to investors, partners, employees and others.
I realized that public speaking was the missing key when I recently reviewed a unique book called "The Power Presenter" by Jerry Weissman.
And, I might not have read the book if it had not received so much praise from venture capitalists. These VCs have relied on Weissman to prepare them to not only raise money for their own funds, but to teach their portfolio company CEOs so they could raise future funding and better grow their companies.
So, why are Weissman's teachings so important? Because, your ability to present effectively and be a great public speaker is critical to your ability to raise money for your business, attract and formalize relationships with key partners, and build a highly motivated team among other things.
And importantly, Weissman's research proves that the content of your presentations is less important than your body language (most important factor) and your voice (next most important factor).
Allow that to sink in for a minute.
What this means is that when you meet with a venture capitalist, angel investor or bank loan officer, your presentation skills are more important than the content of your presentation!
This fact is a bit bothersome to me.
Why? Because it means that an entrepreneur who has great public speaking skills but a poor investor presentation and business model has a superior chance of raising capital than an entrepreneur with a great investor presentation and business but poor communications skills.
But, rather than me pouting about this seemingly unfair reality, let me tell you some of Weissman's keys to making you a better public speaker and presenter.
First of all, to reiterate, the most important thing influencing your audience is visual (i.e., your body language), then vocal (your voice and speaking rhythm) and then verbal (the story you tell).
Secondly, when you present in front of a group, your natural "fight or flight" instincts kick in. Your adrenaline starts pumping and you often get anxious and fidgety. The way that you act as a result of this poorly impacts your audience's perception of you.
To decrease your anxiety, use the following techniques:
1. Practice, practice and practice some more. The more you practice your presentation, the more comfortable you will be when you give it.
2. Concentrate. Just like an elite athlete, you need to clear your mind before the presentation so you can fully concentrate on the task at hand.
Important side note: many years ago, I had the pleasure of introducing entrepreneur and author Harvey McKay at an event. Before he went on, I saw him with his head against the wall talking to himself. I thought it was absolutely bizarre. But he used that technique to focus his mind and pump himself up. The result - he had the audience in the palm of his hand the whole time. It was truly amazing.
3. Shift Your Focus from You to Them. If you give a presentation and your best friend happens to be in the room, chances are that after the presentation the first question you will ask your friend is "How did I do?"
It is this mentality of thinking about yourself that makes people nervous. Rather, focus on the audience. Look at them and think "how are they doing?" This will allow you to present more effectively.
4. Focus on specific people in the audience. Whether there are three prospective investors or business partners in the room, or you are speaking to a room of 50 or 500, you need to visually focus on one person at a time. That is, pick one person to start and complete your first main point. Then you should shift to different people for each key point you make during the presentation. This helps you concentrate better and make sure you are focusing on the audience rather than on yourself.
5. Practice your hand gestures. Hand gestures often positively engage an audience. But, making hand gestures in front of an audience often feels awkward and uncomfortable. You must practice using them with "warmer" audiences (e.g., your friends, co-workers and/or employees) until they become second nature.
Like it or not, your public speaking ability and presentation skills are more important than the content of your presentations. As such, successful entrepreneurs need to master these skills. Use these tips to improve your skills, and remember to really practice all your presentations before the actual event. As you know, in most cases, you only get one shot at key presentations.