At Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, we put on a lot of events, with many different speakers.
Sometimes, the speaker is doing something like this in public for the first time, so I thought I’d take the time to share some of what we’ve learned from the best talks, and what I’ve picked up from doing a lot of public speaking myself.
(BTW… I’m always happy to come give a talk, join a diverse panel, or do a Q&A with your entrepreneurial or investor group. Just reach out and ask.)
Here are five important things to remember:
1) Do you know why you’re interesting?
Most interesting people don’t know why they’re interesting—because they’re not nearly as interesting to themselves as they are to other people. The people who invited you knew why they brought you, but I find that the reason some talks don’t do so well is that the person doesn’t actually know—and therefore they don’t really understand the narrative they’re being asked to share. They don’t have a guidepost about how to give answers. Knowing this helps direct your answers towards some kind of central theme and asking those who brought you in “Why me?” also forces them to think about the same. Some organizers don’t actually know—and they just decided to invite any random VC, software developer, or founder—hence their really boring, generic questions.
2) Think about the “Why” behind moves you make.
Saying “we chose to use this tool” or “I raised a smaller fund” misses out on the part that makes your story more widely applicable to the audience—the “because” part. If you don’t explain the context of your decisions and the reason why you went one way versus the other, you’re missing out on teaching everyone what to do when they face similar circumstances. Otherwise, the advice will come off like, “Do what I did,” which may or may not be entirely relevant given everyone’s situation.
3) Check your privilege.
Some aspects of your story might be about overcoming significant hardship—but other parts might start out with you coming from a place not everyone begins with. Saying that you hired a bunch of people to solve a problem means you had a bunch of money in the bank to do so—and regardless of whether it’s personal money or venture capital money, not everyone in the audience is able to do that. When you acknowledge some of the ways in which you’ve benefitted from certain privileges, again, you open up the lessons to more people. When you say "Hey, this person took a chance on me because they already knew me, and I get that not everyone has this kind of network—but here’s what I think they thought they knew about me, and this is what you really need to prove about yourself” it helps bridge those kinds of gaps.
4) Don’t sell by explanation.
People get turned off if your introduction gives so much detail and goes on for so long that it feels like a sales pitch. It will cause people to completely turn off for the rest of the talk. No one likes to be sold to—but, rest assured, they will be interested in your product or service if you appear smart, easy to work with and well experienced.
5) Be as specific as possible, without going into the weeds.
The people in the audience are taking notes. They invested an hour or so of their time so that they could walk away with specific steps to bring back to their day to day jobs. As you walk through your presentation, imagine if they were tweeting out a series of the steps they learned from your talk. Could you pick them out? Would they be useful, and immediately implementable, or would they be so general as to be meaningless? So many people think that the way to keep a talk within a shorter time limit is to gloss over important things when in reality narrowing the scope, but going a little deeper on one or two really important things more completely is infinitely more useful.