Speech Night!

They say that the most important skill that you can have in your [business] life is to be able to SELL.

And, why shouldn’t it?

– You want to buy a house? You need to shmooze the bank manager … SELL him on why he should give you the loan.

– You want to get married? You’d better woo the spouse-to-be and their parents … SELL them on letting you join their family.

– You want to get a job? You should brush up on your interview skills … SELL them on why you should get the job over all the others applying.

– You want a pay-rise? You had better impress the boss … SELL her on why you – above all others – deserve the promotion.

– You want your start-up to break-even, the maybe make a few bucks profit … who else is going to do the SELLING for you??!!

Unfortunately, I’m actually a terrible salesman, and am very uncomfortable in a one-on-one ‘convince the other guy to give me what I want’ situation.

Luckily, I actually think that the ability to sell is only the second most important [business] skill …

… the first – most important – one came back to me when I attended my daughter’s Speech Night tonight.

In case you’ve never been to one of those, it’s when a bunch of kids each select a random topic and write – then present to their classmates and parents – a 3 minute speech.

Now, I remember the first time that I spoke in public: it was while I was still at college and I was asked to be Best Man at my friend’s wedding; well, all I remember was:

a) I was so nervous that my knees were literally wobbling as I spoke, and

b) I had no idea what to say … I only remember that it was ridiculously schmaltzy like some cheap, drug-store gift card.

I also remember my first ‘real’ work-related speech: it was at a training course for selling, sponsored by the company that hired me straight out of college. I remember that my speech, my delivery, and my materials (overhead transparencies, hand-drawn/colored like some some 5th grader!) were terrible, and my instructors were more than happy to let me know 🙂

The turning point came when – at a later course, after I learned at least SOME presentation skills – I was video-taped giving a practice talk, and (naturally) felt very uncomfortable and unconfident … but, I soldiered on as best I could, resigned to be as embarrassed as usual when I saw the tape.

However, when I was finally shown the tape, the person I saw on the screen was somebody else entirely: he looked relaxed and confident … I couldn’t even see his leg shaking 😛

From that moment on, my career as a ‘public speaker’ was launched!

Realizing that it didn’t matter how I felt that counted, but how my audience perceived me, I rapidly went from strength to strength, actively seeking opportunities to stand up in front of a whiteboard, write-on-wipe-off felt-tip marker in hand.

This, more than any other single skill, accounts for my success in business, investing and Life:

– If I wanted to fund my businesses and investments, I presented my financial plans to my bank manager and his team, careful to fully explain the opportunity and address all of their potential concerns; the presentation format allowed me to be proactive, yet still leave room for additional questions. This allowed me to secure millions of dollars in funding, even when I had absolutely NO assets behind me!

– When I wanted to get married, my real job began at the first family dinner as I carefully presented myself in the best possible light with (sparingly applied!) carefully chosen anecdotes.

– When I wanted a promotion or pay-rise, I made sure that I had a an opportunity to have my boss see me doing something that most people (including him!) are afraid to do: being relaxed, confident, informative, and entertaining in front of an audience. This made me one of the most successful ‘experts’ in my field, within only a couple of years of taking up that particular specialty.

– When I wanted large companies to buy what my company had to sell (and, later, to buy my company), I always came up with a crackerjack presentation that addressed all of their buying considerations (which I had been careful to assess in prior “ask polite questions and listen to what they have to say” meetings); being the only person standing up really allowed me to control the flow of the meeting and helped me to sign multi-million dollar contracts all over the world.

In other words, I let the presentation do the selling, which really took the pressure off me having to perform as a Salesman …

… and, it became clear to me: everybody respects the person standing on the stage.

As for my daughter: she did an awesome, confident speech … as did many of her classmates.

In my opinion, if they keep it up, they will have a flying start in their later business life … and, so will you, if you take the time to learn – and, practice – speaking to an audience.

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10 thoughts on “Speech Night!

  1. Personally, I’ve never really had to do a presentation in front of a crowd. However, try going to the Philippines, and doing Karioki(not sure thats even spelled correctly). They are extremely big on this singing stuff.They expect you to be as well. So, I learned to sing in front of strangers.Well, tried anyway 🙂
    Selling is an art, that I spend many hours each week to increase my Knowledge.My son and I used to go to Sears ,to the electronic department(and pretend we worked there) . We’d approach strangers, introduce ourselves and begin to sell them on many different items in the store. I think Sears needs to send us a very large check(as we sold a lot of their products) 🙂

  2. @ Steve – Wow! Going to Sears to practice your selling skills and learning to sing Karaoke … inspirational stuff. Thanks.

  3. “When I wanted to get married, my real job began at the first family dinner as I carefully presented myself in the best possible light with (sparingly applied!) carefully chosen anecdotes.”

    This sounds like a polite way of saying you lied through yoru teeth! It certainly worked for me 🙂

    Joking aside, one of the factors which enabled me to considerably lift my job performance and income was learning how to speak well in front of others.

  4. You may be on to something. Take a look at our president, nobody doubts he is a great speaker! But on the hope & change thing, well- hey, what’s that over here in the corner, did somebody drop a quarter?


  5. On karaoke- when I moved to SE Asia I was expected to start the karaoke in front of 200 people as the Managing Director… wasn’t ready for this. I somehow butchered ‘My Way’ and toughed it out. Next year- I was prepared and actually had a good time.

    Of course the people will be polite to you no matter how much you suck!

    Public speaking certainly gets easier with some practice. I still get a litte nervous before starting but I find that helps me focus on the key points that need to be covered. Once I start I am in the moment and all nervousness evaporates.


  6. Adrian,

    I sound like I need to get a lot more value from my public speaking skills!

    For anyone that wants to improve their public speaking skills I have one word: practice, practice, practice!

    I’ve been a member of Toastmasters international for a couple years and I’ve seen people improve dramatically by consistantly practicing. I would recommend Toastmasters as a good way to practice because when you make a prepared speech another member evaluates it so that you get immediate feedback.

    I also did readings at my church in order to get practice in front of a much larger audience.

    -Rick Francis

  7. @ Rick – I’ve heard about Toastmaster, but have never been to a meeting … although, I have heard good things. I was thinking that a ‘children’s toastmasters’ would also be a great idea, to get them to start young.

    Thanks for the two great suggestions: join toastmasters and look for speaking opp’s, say, at your local church.

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