Public speaking has always been one of the most effective ways of growing a business. I should know. As COO of my previous business, I would spend several months of the year living out of a Peugeot 307, travelling across the country, delivering one, perfectly refined talk to audiences 5 days a week as part of our recruitment drive. We grew our business from 4 to 250 people in 7 years and generated £12.5m of revenue in the process.
Looking back on it now, it feels almost archaic; with today's technology, we needn't have bothered leaving our living rooms. Which begs the question, how might public speaking be an effective scale up tool in today's world?
I think there are 3 options...
I was doing some work with the COO of a company a few months back and I'll never forget what she said to me in our initial strategy session. 'Our old CEO was a visionary. I want to speak like him.'
Firstly, ouch to the new CEO. But what struck me the most from what she said, is how scarcely I hear that compliment being made.
You don't need to be a charismatic leader to run a successful business, but it helps. Great public speakers and inspiring leaders have the ability to gift perspective to their audiences. They pull them away from the detail so that they can have clarity. When we experience these moments of transcendence, not only do we remember them, we act on them.
Public speaking has such disproportionate value to the amount of time you invest in it, putting time into the message you're going to share at your next company all-hands, town hall, offsite will prove to be an incredibly effective use of your time.
Top tip: Feedback is the breakfast of champions: Create a system that enables you to measure the effectiveness of your internal speaking engagements by finding and monitoring a KPI associated with the output you are hoping your speech will shift.
Conferences are back, but seeing every vaguely relatable conference as an opportunity for exposure and jumping on the speaker circuit is not going to be an effective use of your time. Caveat - unless you're getting paid for it (more on this in a future article).
Another mistake I see too many entrepreneurs make is that they apply to speak at conferences that are specifically related to what they do. From a public speaking strategy perspective, a conference is a battleground for both attention and memory, so sharing a stage with other entrepreneurs in your industry makes it incredibly difficult to stand out. A brilliant example of this was the CogX event I was invited to a couple of years back. 100's of speakers consisting of AI entrepreneurs and tech investors. The speaker I remember? The founder of Extinction Rebellion, who quite frankly, no-one would have expected to be speaking there.
So, be selective over the conferences that you choose to speak at. Make your decisions based on who is going to be in the audience rather than who else is speaking. This will help to ensure that...
The exposure you are receiving is hyper relevant,
Your life isn't being taken up with engagements that aren't driving a return on your time investment, and
Your perceived value as a speaker increases, which could potentially open up another income stream in the future.
Leverage Your Time
If running TEDxClapham taught me anything over the years, it is the power of filming your speech and using it as a showpiece to share your message globally.
These days, the most time effective speaking strategy is to develop a 12-15 minute talk that positions you not just as an entrepreneur, but as a thought leader. Deliver it internally or externally to a live audience and equally important, a film crew. Then put the recording of that talk on the internet for the world to see and invest time into implementing a strategy that puts your message in front of the people who need to see it (investors, clients, employees, politicians).
Turn your talk into a piece of content that does that hard work for you.
The results can be profound and infinitely more powerful than delivering a talk to a theatre of 500 people.
That is the view count of a 15 minute talk that has been watched 24/7 for a year. It does not need to go viral, nor is it about how many people watch the talk, it's about who watches it that matters.
Here are some of the ways I have seen entrepreneurs have leverage with the recording of their speech in the past...
As a precursor to critical meetings (investors, prospective clients governments, NGOs) so that they maximise the time they spend together and make decisions faster.
To build their personal brand and land paid speaking opportunities/book deals/public speaking agents.
To reposition their personal brand following a change in career in the lead up to launching a new business.
One last thing...
To me, there is a difference between speaking to promote your business and speaking to grow it (n.b. the article title).
Speaking to promote your business is self-serving, short-termist and agenda pushing. It's the trap that most entrepreneurs wanting to become thought-leaders fall into when they deliver talks in public.
To speak as a thought leader is to step outside of your role as a founder and deliver an address that serves a greater cause and the people that you're speaking to. Doing so will not only give your business a bigger purpose, but it will help position you and your organisation as an expert within your industry.
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