Sooner or later in your life as an entrepreneur, you'll be called upon to speak publicly about your experience.
Sooner or later, too, you'll be called upon to speak publicly on a topic that has nothing directly to do with your company's work. Saying yes to the opportunity is an obvious chance to practice your presentation skills -- always a valuable experience for entrepreneurs -- but more importantly it gets you outside the comfort zone of saying what you usually say in public.
It exercises other muscles, from preparing for the talk, to reading the room, to the best ways to follow through, both immediately after the presentation and in the "slow burn" of outreach in the days and weeks afterward.
That's what happened to me this past Saturday at the Bâtonnage Forum for women in wine, held in Napa, California. (Bâtonnage is a winemaking term that means "stirring the lees," which provides freshness and texture to the finished product.) It wasn't about my comfort zone of wine, or data, or business, or entrepreneurship. I'd been asked to summarize the day's takeaways, as well as to send attendees off, inspired and committed to executing what we'd all learned.
Here's what I learned, myself, from the experience.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Public speaking "off the cuff" totally works in some situations and for some presenters. In those situations, talks can be fun, colorful and improvisational, which are valuable qualities that enliven any talk. For me, for this particular event, I spent most of my time preparing well in advance.
I'd been mentally preparing for my talk for weeks, both outwardly and inwardly. I spoke with many colleagues and friends about what would be helpful for them to hear, then incorporated their feedback into the notes on my computer and in my idea notebook. I also meditated quietly about the content of the talk, visualizing the audience and the setting, with an eye toward delivering words that would be useful, hopeful and relevant.
2. Prepare, and then read the room.
This is where improvisation comes in. Though I definitely had a message I wanted to deliver, my responsibility was also to summarize the most salient, resonant takeaways from the day's previous speakers and panelists.
"Takeaways" in this case meant two things: content, and emotion. Content, certainly, which were the lessons, ideas and actionable suggestions that the speakers offered. But the emotion of the day mattered too: the gritty vision of the entrepreneurs who produced the event, the enthusiasm of a sold-out crowd who responded to the alternative nature of the program, and the desire for change that's paired with an equal or greater desire for information about how to actually make that change happen.
Summarizing both the content and the emotion, then, means an awareness of the words worth saying as well as their delivery that's worth remembering.
3. Three points, one call to action.
Marika Vida, a friend and colleague who also works in the wine industry, reminded me of an essential tool for structuring presentations: make your three points, then give the audience one call to action that they can walk away with. Even though there had to be some "game time decisions" in terms of what I said, being mindful of this 3/1 framework helped very much to corral the ideas as I processed them from my seat in the audience throughout the day.
4. Take some time, take some breaths.
I've written previously about tips to manage the anxiety of public speaking, including shifting the focus away from yourself and into a place of curiosity about how the information you're sharing can be helpful to the listeners, and taking a few minutes to breathe from your belly rather than your lungs.
In practice, this meant standing up 30 minutes before it was my time to speak, walking off to the side to gather my thoughts, and taking the time to focus on the breath so that it's both calm and intentional.
5. Follow up and follow through.
There are often two trajectories of follow up after a public presentation: those that happen immediately after the talk, and those that are the "slower burn" of outreach in the days or weeks following the event. Both are valuable, as they deliver the feedback of immediate response as well as longer-term impact.
A public speaking engagement doesn't end when you put the microphone down, just as it didn't start only when you picked it up. Savoring that entire process is a big part of the pleasure of the opportunity.