As founder and CEO of New York-based Careers Advance, Lisa Panarello provides professional development coaching, branding services, and training programs for individuals, small businesses, and corporations. She has inspired more than a half-million students, parents, and professionals nationwide through keynote speeches, interactive workshops, and dynamic presentations. In 2010, Panarello was a Top 9 Finalist (out of 30,000 participants) in Toastmaster’s International World Champion of Public Speaking Contest. Writer Matt Krumrie spoke with Panarello recently on how better public speaking and pitch skills can positively impact a small business.
MK: What are some misconceptions about public speaking that small business owners may harbor?
LP: I think the misnomer is that when people hear public speaking they assume it is someone who stands in front of a podium speaking to 1,000 people, or it’s the president of the company who has to address their entire staff. That's one form of public speaking. But public speaking is actually speaking in public, whether it is at a networking event, over coffee with an existing client, or through a client presentation where the business owner has to pitch a particular service to win that client over.
If you attend a client meeting, Rotary Club meeting, networking event, staff meeting, or industry seminar and are talking, formally or informally, then you are speaking publically. These are all areas where you can make an impact for your business.
MK: You've had success and benefited from being part of Toastmasters. What are some other ways to improve as a public speaker/presenter?
LP: Toastmasters is a great organization to give you a platform for delivering and practicing any speech on any topic that you want to talk about, but there are other ways to improve. First, it's having the desire to improve. We are better than we think, but we don't always know where we fall short and where we're actually good. There are so many elements of speaking—body language, the facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact, vocal projection.
Whenever you are given a speaking engagement, such as through small group training at your office for your staff, or delivering a presentation to a group of clients, if it's possible, videotape yourself. Once you watch the video you can see what you need to improve. Am I saying ‘umms’ and ‘uhhs’ and ‘likes,’ Am I speaking clearly or audibly? How is my body language? Am I smiling?
LP: It's really not about being a phenomenal speaker. Having the courage to get up there and speak will prove to someone else that this person believes in what they are saying and has a reputation to uphold.
Preparation is the key to any success. Whenever I’m meeting new people, presenting or working with a new client I need to prepare as much as possible. It's not about being perfect or knowing everything there is to know in your industry, but it is about knowing as much as you can about that client, what their needs are and what you bring to the table to help them.
MK: If you are presenting and suddenly, nerves or fear set in and you lose your direction, what can you do to restore calm?
LP: That's natural. What I have been trained on as a public speaker is to embrace the pause. That allows your brain to think and it also allows the audience to digest whatever it is you are saying. Sometimes we are so nervous we're like a train wreck, we just run through the presentation because we want to get through it and sit down. Don’t be afraid to pause.
MK: What are some unique ways your business benefitted from an opportunity to speak?
LP: I was involved with a group called Business Over Books. It was organized as a networking meeting where like-minded professionals talked about a book and shared ideas. There were 12 people who showed up and the moderator had us go around the room and tell us about ourselves. It was very informal, and I gave a three-minute elevator pitch talking about my business. The very next day I received two calls that led to new business and a connection to another business opportunity. So, talking about myself for three minutes in an informal setting led to business. Those are the types of opportunities business owners need to prepare for and embrace.
LP: Forget about yourself. We are so wound up on wondering what we look like, what we sound like, and we forget that the audience is there to get your information. Whenever you are presenting, remember it really is not about you. It's about what your audience needs and what you can deliver. Focus on your audience.
MK: What else would you like to say to small business owners out there?
LP: Developing your speaking talent does take time. Nothing is an overnight success. I was not an overnight speaking success but I enjoyed the journey. I embraced the opportunity to learn and develop. Give yourself time to grow, don't give up and it will happen, you will succeed.
This interview has been edited for length and for clarity.