Swimming with the Sharks

As founders of a startup company, we live the ups and downs of entrepreneurship every day. Today, entrepreneurship has become very en vogue. According to the Kaufmann Foundation, there are 476,000 new businesses formed each month with 3 in every 100 adults becoming an entrepreneur. And this number stands to grow with baby boomers reinventing themselves as they near retirement and millennials opting to launch businesses rather than enter the traditional corporate workforce. Along with this growth comes the public's fascination with entrepreneurship and the popularity of shows like Shark Tank and The Profit, showcasing (albeit in a very watered-down and sensational way) the highs and lows of being a business owner. Shark Tank's season premiere last month attracted 8.8 million viewers, solidifying its position as the #1 show on television on Friday nights and confirming America's obsession with the pursuit of the American dream.

As entrepreneurs, our dream was to marry together technology with one of the most under-practiced and most essential skills - public speaking. Coming out of the world of training, we know how much people dread even the thought of having to speak in front of others - 74% of Americans report that they have anxiety about speaking publicly and public speaking typically tops the list as the number one fear people face - even more than death! So, with the increasing number of entrepreneurs - many of which need to get in front of prospective investors just like those brave souls who enter the Shark Tank - there is surely a great need to be effective communicators.  And, as anyone who has watched a few episodes of Shark Tank can attest to, many entrepreneurs are not at all skilled at telling their story and meaningfully pitching their product. Even before they have Mr. Wonderful or Mark Cuban dissect their financials, they need to be able to convincingly make the case that they have a good idea. Without some skill and practice,  this is where many dreams end.

In general, the greatest challenge a builder of businesses faces is inspiring confidence, getting people to believe in an idea, to sign on and work on it, or to invest their hard-earned dollars in it. The one thing you need to inspire confidence is superior communication skills. In the Shark Tank, you'll notice something that the folks who get funded all have in common. Within the first minute, they turn the investors into believers. How do they do it? Well, after watching and studying every episode, we've distilled three secrets that we're happy to reveal here. If you're going on Shark Tank any time soon, you can use these to improve your chances. And if you're not, you can use them to improve your presentation skills in both personal and professional encounters.

Inspiring speakers use non-verbal skills to build credibility with their audience.

The primary non-verbal methods of communication are:

  • Visual elements- such as body language, eye contact, movement, and gestures
  • Vocal elements- including volume level, pacing/pausing, tone/pitch
  • Verbal fluency- avoiding vocal fillers, employing correct word choice, and smooth flow of speech

Inspiring speakers are experts at what I'll call audience engagement.

  • They know they have to make an impact from the get-go, and they've mastered the opening pitch!
  • They know that spoon-feeding information to an audience doesn't engage people. They ask strategic questions that pique their listeners' interest.
  • They look to answer questions that the audience is burning to know.

Inspiring speakers focus on inspiring content that aligns with the interests of their audience.

  • They know their audience---not just the demographic but experiences they may have in common, the type of humor they appreciate, and types of statements to avoid.
  • They understand the difference between what we MUST share and what we LIKE to share.
  • They keep it simple and focus on key messaging. Everything they say, every bullet point and every anecdote, must align with the point of the presentation.

So, that's an overview of what makes an inspiring speaker. Stay tuned as we dig into each of these in a more in-depth fashion and share some examples of speakers who have done it well and others who just bombed!



Tammy Palazzo

t3 interactive LLC, 515 Valley Street, Suite 2, Maplewood, NJ 07040