Speaking in public

Do you dread speaking in front of a wider audience? Most people do. But after this weekend I will be a bit better at it than I used to be. Just like everything else, public speaking takes practice, but it’s especially hard at the beginning.

Startup Weekend was in town yesterday and I planned to spend the whole weekend working on an idea that I had for a while. To cut a long story short, it turned out that I won’t have a lot of spare time during the weekend, so I was considering not going at all.

I decided to go and pitch my idea anyways—I figured that it’s a nice challenge to speak in front of that many people. For those of you that haven’t read about startup weekend, you basically have one minute to pitch your idea and later on people vote for the most popular ideas. Once that’s finished, teams are formed around the ideas and they continue to work on them during the weekend. It’s a great opportunity to meet interesting people, make new connections, and have fun while working on something you really love.

It’s a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, and that’s exactly what I did. I decided to pitch my idea in front of 100 people, just to see if I can pull it off.

There are some key points I tried to follow when giving the talk, and I also learned something while listening to other pitches.

  • Don’t talk too fast. This is especially important when you’re not speaking in your native language. Your audience won’t understand what you are talking about, and you will lose their focus.
  • You need to know what you are going to talk about. I’m not saying to memorize word-by-word what you need to say, but make sure to memorize the key points you want to talk about.
  • Connect with your audience. This will be hard if you are not frequently speaking in public. At least it was for me. I felt a huge rush of adrenalin when I started speaking.
  • If you want to make people interested then talk about something they care about. Talk about it in terms of what they get by following you or your idea. There’s a whole chapter about this in a really nice book “How to win friends and influence people”.

My pitch went something like this:

Hello everyone, my name is Amir. I’m a software developer, and I want to help you—I want to help small businesses.

Shared workspaces are not something new. There are shared workspaces in most developed countries and they are usually referred to as coworking spaces. Our neighboring countries such as Croatia and Serbia have coworking spaces. These spaces usually rent out individual desks and have different pricing options for different team sizes.

What I don’t know is how big the market is, and what exactly “affordable” means. That’s one of the most important things that I’m planning to work on during this weekend. I would definitely appreciate all the help I can get.

Starting a company in Bosnia is not cheap when compared to other developed countries, and I want to help keep those costs down by building the first coworking space in Sarajevo.

That’s pretty much it. I want to build a coworking space in Sarajevo for small businesses. I actually practiced the speech a couple of times before attending the event and I consistently managed to get it done in around 50 seconds. I broke the time limit by a couple of seconds when I gave the pitch in front of the audience. My guess is that I wondered of and talked about something else for a couple of seconds.

But I did it. I went out of my comfort zone and it didn’t hurt. You can do it too. If nothing else it will help you practice your public speaking skills for more serious situations such as important meetings.

I also got some nice feedback for the idea. There were some attendees that actually needed something like this, and it also got accepted (based on the number of votes), but as I already said there were more important things that I had to finish during the weekend.

I’m actually looking forward to speak in public again.