A young woman with short hair stands at the front of a conference room and speaks to her colleagues, who are seated around a mirror-topped conference table.
Avoid corporate jargon in your speeches and pitches. You may think it lends your presentation an air of expertise, but your listeners are likely to be confused. — Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt

As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably put a lot of time and effort into honing your idea, building a business plan, and working on an elevator pitch. When the time comes to approach investors, you’ve thought of every detail. The last piece of the puzzle is your delivery. Can you convey the excitement, passion, and energy you’ve put into this idea?

Public speaking skills can make the difference between an investor’s support and their disinterest. Honing your public speaking can serve you well not only during fundraising but later as you grow your team and begin to reach out to customers. Here are some ways to improve your public speaking and capture the attention of your audience.

Speak plainly

It’s tempting to show that you’re an expert by using industry or business jargon. Resist this impulse as much as possible.

"Fairly or not, people judge you for how you speak just as much as they do for what you say," speech expert John Bowe told Yahoo Finance. “And there's no better way to lose your audience than resorting to ‘corporate speak.’”

Buzzwords can easily confuse your audience. And when you overuse jargon, you could risk leaving the impression that you don't know what you’re talking about. Terms and expressions like “thought leadership,” “low-hanging fruit,” and “synergy” can make it seem like you could be covering up the fact that you don’t have anything concrete to say. Speak plainly to build trust with your audience.

Think about the audience

There’s a tendency among public speakers to focus on their stage presence. “Most entrepreneurs worry, ‘How will I look on stage?’ They focus on themselves,” wrote Entrepreneur. “Successful entrepreneurs think differently: they don’t focus on themselves, they focus on the audience.”

As you prepare, consider the environment you’re going to be speaking in and the audience to whom you will present. The audience for a startup pitch, for instance, is likely going to be interested in hearing your material. The audience at a conference, however, may be thinking about lunch, networking, or their own presentations. Understanding the expectations of different audiences can lower anxiety and help you craft a more compelling narrative.

[Read more: Pitching Your Business to Investors: How Much Enthusiasm Is Too Much?]

People are best able to remember numbers when a story is attached.

Jean Hamilton, speaking coach and founder of Speaking Results

Learn your material

Hopefully, you’ll know your presentation from front to back. Whether you’re using slides, consulting notecards, or memorizing your presentation, put a lot of effort into crafting a compelling narrative and rehearsing your material.

However, don’t stop there. Many entrepreneurs still have work to do after finishing their formal presentation. Investors may ask follow-up questions or ask to go through part of the presentation again so they fully understand it. As a result, it’s important to not just memorize the information you’re presenting. Know what outcomes you’re looking for and how to deliver the information that can get you to that outcome.

Focus on opening strong

First impressions matter, especially in public speaking. Grab your audience’s attention early with a personal anecdote or audience interaction. Ask a question to which audience members can raise their hands in response. Or, share a story about how you overcame a difficulty or were presented with a problem — a problem that led you to your elevator pitch.

A strong opening that connects with your audience is key to keeping people paying attention. The most successful public speakers frame their pitch as a narrative. Speaking coach Jean Hamilton explained, "People are best able to remember numbers when a story is attached."

Your opening sets the tone for the rest of the presentation. Set the scene to deliver a powerful pitch.

Bring a water bottle

If you get anxious, bring something to hold with you. A water bottle is a natural fit. If you come under pressure or forget your place, you can stall for time by taking a sip. It also gives you something to do with your hands, preventing excessive gesturing that can make you seem nervous and less confident.

[Read more: How to Improve Your Public Speaking (and Build Your Business)]

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Published September 16, 2022