Learning from the Best: Public Speaking Takeaways from Entrepreneurship Week
Daryl Pereira 270002AW8D firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  stanford hillary-page-ive ibm-smartcamp
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Guest post by Hillary Page Ive. Hillary is a senior at Stanford University majoring in Science, Technology, and Society with a focus in Information Technology, Media, and Society.
In the peak competition of IBM’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, representatives from eight promising startups put everything they had into their final opportunity to demonstrate why they deserved to be IBM’s Entrepreneur of the Year. During the 12 weeks prior to the event, the startups learned from mentors in IBM’s SmartCamp and prepared to deliver their 6 minute pitch. While these startups had spent the previous 12 weeks learning about entrepreneurship, I found myself learning about public speaking as I listened to their presentations.
As mentioned in the IBM Global Entrepreneur Blog, winner Coriell Life Sciences’ pitch was strengthened through use of a story. Introducing his pitch with a description of an elderly woman named Doris, Coriell Life Sciences CEO Scott Megill presented a problem Doris faced and then demonstrated why his company offered the best solution. The benefits of beginning a pitch with a story may be common knowledge, but Megill was particularly successful because he complemented the story with visuals. “Meet Doris,” he stated. With the click of a remote, a cartoon Doris then appeared on the slide in the background. By introducing Doris not just through a story but also through a cartoon image, Megill brought Doris to life and engaged the audience’s imagination. Further, I found that the method in which Megill introduced Doris—verbally followed by visually—was a subtle but powerful indication of Megill’s familiarity with his slides and control over his presentation.
I also learned there is a noticeable difference between being prepared and being able to deliver a presentation blindfolded. I found the strongest presenters were able to anticipate each bullet point to come, such that they could discuss a new bullet point without ever looking to their slide deck. Without glancing at screens displaying the slides, presenters maintained eye contact with the audience, spoke to the audience, and demonstrated complete preparedness.
While it is no surprise that being prepared and engaging the audience are crucial to an excellent presentation, the subtle differences in how well these goals are accomplished may come as a surprise even to those well versed in public speaking. After attending the competition, I walked away with an appreciation for the tiny changes that can make all the difference.