Talking in front of other people doesn’t rank high on the list of most people’s favorite things to do, but sometimes it’s inevitable. I was recently invited to a startup and investor networking event at the Icelandic Embassy in Finland. Many interesting founders with creative ideas took part, showcasing Iceland’s diverse business talent. Later in the evening, when we were all gathered for wine and cheese, the speeches started. Although the memo was to keep each talk short, it was clearly up for interpretation. One of the speakers, in particular, broke almost every public-speaking rule possible. He spoke quietly, about only himself, for far too long. He didn’t address everyone in the room and failed to recognize their impatient shuffling of feet.
Watching the guy made me realize that there’s still a lot to be learned about giving an inspiring talk at a networking event. So here are my five tips to make your talk stand out!
You may be invited to a networking event with the expectation that you’ll have to do little more than some chit chat during the evening. You never really know for sure, though! You should always be prepared to give a speech on the spot. The best impromptu speeches, they say, are well rehearsed in advance. The key is in condensing your wealth of knowledge into easily comprehensible sentences. Few people can do this naturally.
Being prepared doesn’t mean that you have to know all your company’s details by heart, but rather that you can give a concise introduction to what you and your company are doing. Think elevator pitch. Just imagine how you would present the topic to a random stranger on the street. And make sure you use the correct language for the occasion. As long as you are prepared there will be no unwanted surprises when you are called upon to speak.
Let’s be honest — nobody really wants to listen to you. Just a minute ago they were having fun, talking to one another intently and sipping their wine. Now they have to listen to you out of politeness. The best thing you can do is to keep your talk as short as possible, while still including everything you deem important. You should consider limiting yourself to three minutes, ideally. Everybody who is interested in more details will approach you afterwards. Your listeners will be thankful that you’ve mastered the art of prioritising. It shows that you are a professional with a clear mindset and agenda — a quality much appreciated in entrepreneurs.
A great way to save time is an unexpected start. Don’t introduce yourself for minutes talking about your cat’s third cousin’s best friend or be the 14th person to thank the host. Just jump straight into it. Surprise is one of the best ways to capture the attention of your audience.
Most good communication happens in threes: three core values, three examples, three bullet points*. Three is a compelling number; three points are easy to remember. When you prepare your speech, you need to have three points that you want to touch upon. Two is not enough, four is two many. Three is just right. Structure your talk along three elements, increasing in importance from start to finish. Also make sure you end your talk repeating and emphasising those three key elements of your speech. Chances are good your audience will remember those three points you made.
The success of your speech can greatly depend on your voice. Instead of boring people in a monotonous monologue, you should embrace your role as a storyteller. You don’t need to be a voice artist to use the different facets of your vocal chords. Always speak as loud as necessary to be clearly understood by everybody, but don’t scream at your audience or mumble into your beard (should you have one, that is). Use what’s called a “narrative melody” (fancy way of saying ‘mix up your talking’), utilise strategic pauses and harness the depth of your voice to transmit a convincing message. The human voice is an incredible organ with tremendous power — if well played, it can capture your audience no matter what you’re talking about.
Consider recording yourself to hear the impact different talking styles have on your speech. This ties in nicely with Point 1 on this list. Also helps you to make sure you follow Points 2 and 3.
Last but not least, making people laugh is the easiest way to their hearts (and ears). A networking event is an ideal place to try this, as the mood is usually relaxed and not as formal as at a big conference. You do not need to be a comedian to incorporate an innocent joke into your talk. Often, it is enough to point out a comedic aspect of the event or a statement made by the person who spoke ahead of you. Showing awareness for context is a great way to start your speech and to loosen the mood of the audience. Don’t get carried away, though, and stay away from cringe-worthy jokes.
Admittedly this step is the hardest to master, but it’s also just the icing on the cake for giving a truly inspiring talk.
Talking in front of people is not a clandestine art that cannot be learned. Yes, there will always be people who are natural rhetorical talents, but if you follow the rules above you will step up your game considerably. Nobody learned riding a bike by being afraid of it.
You got this.
*Never follow rules religiously. Break them if need be. A listicle with just three points would be rather short, so five is the way to go.