As a founder-CEO, you’ve probably discovered by now that you’re going to spend a lot of time talking about, selling, and defending your business to stakeholders. Fluency in public speaking has become a prerequisite in the business world, but this has done nothing to lessen the fear of public speaking and the negative impact this anxiety has on your success: public speaking anxiety has been shown to impair wages by 10% and promotions by 15%. Poor public speaking skills can also come at a high cost to your organization in the form of damaged reputation, missed opportunity, and lost productivity. If you think the pandemic got us out of needing to hone our public speaking skills, think again. Thanks to the massive shift to digital meetings, things haven’t improved for those with public speaking anxiety – even triggering a new term, “zoom anxiety,” – in part due to the increased sense of hypervigilance about our performance and appearance.
Hate it or love it, the craft of public speaking can be the determining factor, or at least a critical component, to whether or not an investor chooses to buy into your startup and can set you apart during early-stage funding rounds. Here’s how to leverage public speaking skills to work when pitching your business to investors.
5 Essential Pitch Skills You Can Gain From Public Speaking
1. Honing A Public Speaking Style Sells YOU.
When I invest in a startup, I primarily invest in founders. There are a lot of great business ideas out there that will never get hit the market and a lot of great business ideas that will fail if/when they do. What makes the difference in the success of a company is the team, and I want to see that you can lead that team to success. You may not be a Fortune 500 CEO today, but your pitch can show investors that, with their support, you have what it takes to get there.
Your public speaking skills when delivering your pitch should be authentic to you, who you are, or they won’t ring true and can cause investors to lose faith. Your pitch should sell your business, but your pitch should also sell you – which, when your company is young and unproven, is what early-stage funders are really investing in.
2. Learning To Face Your Discomfort and Persevere
Jerry Seinfeld famously joked: “according to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death…This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” The truth is, almost nobody loves public speaking. As an introvert, I certainly don’t. But, as a serial tech startup founder and successful entrepreneur, you better believe I had to learn how to channel my nerves and dislike for public speaking into my passion for the success of my companies, teaching me to clearly and persuasively share my belief in why I was the single person uniquely suited to bringing a game-changing tech startup to market.
Developing your skills as a public speaker will teach you to clearly define the value you bring to the table and that your business brings to the marketplace and your future customers. It also teaches you that you can face challenges and discomfort and, ultimately, succeed and grow from it. Start facing the things you’re afraid of now, while they’re small.
3. Crafting A Customized Message
Public speaking teaches you to consider how what you have to say serves and teaches your audience (in this case, potential investors). Good public speakers know how to make their audience feel like their content is exclusively for them. They may work from a basic template, but they also customize their message to appeal to their audience’s unique wants.
Example: I am attracted to tech solutions that solve legacy problems. I also have a strong background in healthcare technology. If a founder has a short window of time to convince me to participate in early-stage funding for their startup, acknowledging my background and incorporating case studies and results in these areas is a strategic move – and one that can mean the difference between me buying in or walking away. This tells me a founder did their homework, gets what I bring to the table, and is putting themselves in my shoes, considering what, as an investor, matters to me. I want to know who I am getting into business with, that they know the market inside and out, that they have positioned themselves to succeed, and that they have a plan to give me the best return possible on my investment.
4. Adjust For Timing Constraints
They say timing is everything, and it’s especially true when it comes to delivering the right message to the right audience. Public speaking and pitching an investor (or customer) are all very different tasks – and the length of time you’ll be speaking could be as little as 1 minute or as much as an hour-long panel. At different stages in the growth of your business, you’ll need to prepare for a variety of different speaking opportunities.
As a startup founder, you’re primarily pitching investors. An investor pitch is different from how you pitch customers, who are familiar with and personally invested in your solution. A successful investor pitch should deliver enough information about your solution and the market to secure an investor’s interest so they’ll stick around to learn more.
Later, once you’ve gained some traction and landed your series, you might be invited to speak as a subject matter expert at a conference or on a panel, which involves speaking for extended periods of time. That’s when your more general public speaking skills will be required.
5. Learn To Welcoming Feedback
Public speaking requires practice and, especially if you work with a coach, take advantage of a professional peer group, or simply practice with colleagues and friends, to try out your pitch in a low-stakes environment and to an audience who will provide honest, transparent, and direct feedback (that’s the important part).
If, after a pitch, an investor passes, find out why. They may offer feedback (and, if they do, you should gladly and graciously take it), but if they don’t, you should ask for it. Welcoming feedback is a powerful form of educating yourself and getting better at pitching your business to potential investors, as well as other stakeholders such as potential board members, team members, and consumers.
It’s easy to get defensive in your disappointment and say “they just don’t get it.” Resist that urge and listen instead. You’ll be better for it.
Investors Want You To Invest In Your Own Success
With so many balls in the air, it can be hard to slow down and focus on an activity you, like most people, probably don’t enjoy. My advice: recognize that speaking is integral to your success as a founder. Developing your public speaking skills will help you learn how to ensure your audience walks away with the message you planned on delivering. Don’t leave anything on the table and don’t waste their time or yours by being unprepared or disorganized. You and your company will be more successful for it. Got an airtight, compelling pitch for your revolutionary tech startup? I want to hear about it.
Enjoy the ride.