A few months back, I was attending a two-day business seminar. When the keynote speaker, Diggi Thomson, started his presentation, it wasn’t just his lilting Scottish accent that immediately caught everyone’s attention. From the get-go, Diggi was smiling, friendly and engaging. He was easy to hear, even from the back of the room, and he made us all laugh right away. In short, Diggi had us at “hello.”
I wanted to find out the secret to quickly and easily taking (and keeping) command of a room. I spoke with Diggi, who runs a marketing consulting business with his partner, Gene Tiernan, about developing his public speaking prowess.
Diggi, have you always been comfortable speaking in front of a crowd?
Public speaking has never been a fear for me. Growing up, my dad was a natural “after-dinner speaker,” and our family hosted a lot of parties and gatherings. People would just get up and do things — play the piano, share a story, tell a joke. In that environment, no one was ever separate from the group or felt pressured to perform at a certain level. We were all in it together, sharing an experience, with one person who happened to be speaking at a given moment.
When I hear about the pervasive fear of public speaking, I think it must stem from the fact that humans are social creatures. Fundamentally, we can’t survive very long apart from the group. If we’re exiled, it’s like death. On an unconscious level, maybe the fear is about being up there on your own, separate and separated from everyone else. That could explain why so many people would rather die than give a presentation!
What did you learn from watching your father regularly get up in front of a crowd?
My dad wrote funny songs and played them at the piano, and he often spoke at public dinners and events. He was a natural – engaging, witty and funny. He knew the importance of being really prepared because that meant he could adapt to any situation and personalize his message to each audience.
Tell us more about getting prepared before giving a presentation.
The more prepared you are, the more you’ll feel confident, relaxed and able to engage “spontaneously” with your audience. Here are five “dos and don’ts” I always keep in mind.
I DO know the key points I want my audience to understand. Once I’ve figured out up to five main takeaways for my audience, I work backward from there to create my presentation. I strip away all the fat and focus on how to deliver my key messages.
I DON’T ever memorize my talk. When you read from a script or try to deliver a speech word-for-word, you lose the opportunity to spontaneously interact with and react to your audience. Plus, you’ll probably sound like a robot! Instead of memorizing, I make a list of ten or so points that serve as a roadmap to what I want the audience to learn. If I get lost for a moment, I can glance at my notes and easily find my way back to the main idea I want to share.
I DO make sure I know how I will start. I believe the opening is the most important part of any presentation. It’s your chance to grab people’s attention and set the tone for the information that follows. When I think back on a presentation that hasn’t gone well, it’s because I hadn’t fully prepared my opening statement.
I DON’T wait until the last minute to get to the venue. It’s so important to get to the location early – an hour, at least. You’ll need more time than you realize to see how the room is set up and sort out any inevitable technical snafus. Another reason to arrive early? You can start making connections with the audience as they enter the room. If you have a few minutes to smile and say hello to people, you’ll feel more relaxed. It helps you remember that you’re not separate from the group. In fact, you’re all in this together.
I DO calm my nerves with a few deep breaths. Even after years of public speaking, I still get nervous. For me, it’s not because I’m afraid something will go wrong. It’s because I want everything to be as good as it possibly can. If I’m on edge, I take slow, deep breaths to help me relax. I also give myself a little pep talk: People want to hear what I have to say!
Diggi, why is it important for entrepreneurs to feel comfortable and confident about public speaking?
Growing a business has a lot to do with making authentic, positive connections. Small business owners are constantly engaging with people who they want to do business with, whether it’s customers, investors or even potential partners. We’d all prefer to do business with friends than with strangers, so it’s a valuable skill to be able to authentically convey who you are, what matters to you and what you have to offer. When you genuinely connect with people – either individually or as a group – it’s much more likely they’ll want to do business with you in the future.
QB Community members, how do you prepare for giving a speech or presentation?
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@WillowOlder, very cool article/interview! I LOATHE public speaking!! I've done a few seminars and presentations and with each one I feel the same level of unease. The funny thing is once I get going, I'm fine and enjoy the interaction with my audience. I am the same way meeting new clients. Experience doesn't seem to ease my angst!
My sure fire methods to get me through are preparation, humor, and interaction. By being prepared I know my nervousness stems from my own silly fears and not because I don't have a thorough understanding of what I'm presenting. Trying to tell some light jokes (usually at my own expense) eases my anxiety as well. It is amazing how laughter will cure unrest! Interaction also helps because then it feels like you are having a conversation and not giving a presentation. The give and take lets me forget that I am in front of a crowd. A healthy dose of psyching myself up in front of the mirror beforehand also helps and of course BREATHE!!
@Peter_G_Stone Thanks for sharing your tips for public speaking. One of the most helpful things I learned from speaking with Diggi is the importance of connecting with your audience members, even if it's just a quick "hi" or exchanging a smile before you present. You capture that strategy exactly with your "interaction" technique. I think it's key to remember the audience is on your side and *wants* to hear what you have to say. Now I'm wondering: What kind of seminars or presentations do you give most often -- and how are they related to your business? As an entrepreneur, when do you MOST need to be comfortable with public speaking? I'd love to hear your thoughts. And in the meantime, check out this article and video about public speaking from @Anonymous: VIDEO: I Messed Up a Public Speaking Moment, But You Don’t Have To (Thanks, Julie Gordon White!)
@WillowOlder, I have begun doing Quickbooks seminars. I'm teaching small business owners the basics of QBO or QBDT, while trying to integrate real simple accounting/bookkeeping knowledge through groups like SCORE and my local CoC. I enjoy the exposure, as I can do a quick plug for my firm's services, plus I get the benefit of learning more myself through teaching others. I also had a few presentations that I gave recently while wrapping up my baccalaureate.
I need to be comfortable with public speaking every day. Working with small businesses in a small town, you never know who you will run into. Might be a client at the coffee shop who wants to pick your brain, or a potential client who is with them. The moment that is least expected is when you need to be prepared the most and have the ability to be engaging and knowledgeable because word will travel quick if you aren't! Not exactly public speaking, but I would much rather have time to prep for a large audience than be caught off guard by an existing/potential client.
@Peter_G_Stone Congrats on finding new ways to build your brand! And kudos on recognizing the power of learning through teaching. We hear that from other members of this community, too. Now I'm curious -- how do you market your classes or seminars?
@WillowOlder, I do not market them. The organizations found me through a ProAdvisor search and contacted me. After discussing what was required I signed on and they handle the marketing. I would like to do more of these seminars with other groups, but at the moment I have too many plates spinning that are a higher priority.