Instead, I thought it might be interesting to share what I learnt. Public speaking is the #1 fear in North America, and after this experience, I can totally see why.
I went in over my head, made mistakes, embarrassed myself on stage, but I had LOADS of fun and learnt a few cool things.You might find these lessons useful if you’re starting out as a young entrepreneur or executive.
It’s a looong post (with pictures!) so heeeere we go!
1. It’s Ok Even If You’re Not 100% Prepared
Look – everyone says, “Step out of your comfort zone”, but few people know what that really means. It’s kind of like saying, “Tim has bad breath” – you never really know what that means until you actually EXPERIENCE it for yourself.
In my case, “stepping out of my comfort zone” was getting up on stage, holding a mic, and delivering a 30-minute presentation on index investing to 400 people.
I can hold pretty normal conversations, and I’ve performed hip-hop in front of hundreds of people before, but this was a totally new experience.
I was also dreadfully unprepared: I had no formal training, no prior experience, and unlike most of the bloggers I shared the stage with, running a blog isn’t my full-time job. To top it all off, it was literally the WORST time for me to make the presentation, since I was already hyper-busy with the launch of my new course.
But I knew that opportunities don’t always come when you’re prepared. So I said, “Heck this s***,” and I went for it. I winged my way through the prep by watching videos of presenters I admired, writing out and memorising my entire script, and getting my poor girlfriend to listen to my practice sessions.
It’s the same when it comes to business. The most famous entrepreneurs and business leaders were hardly prepared for the opportunities they took. Most didn’t know what the heck they were doing. But they winged it. Some of their gambles crashed and burned, but all it took was for a single success for them to make it.
2. It’s Not Just About The Facts – It’s About The Story
When I first agreed to speak, I thought I could simply rehash what I already had into a simple, straightforward presentation, just like all the presentations I’d seen in the corporate world. After all, I already knew that my case for index investing was rock-solid. All I had to do was present the facts, right?
But as I watched more videos of great presenters, I realised that it was way more complex than that. Great presenters didn’t simply recite the facts from a slide with 20 bullet points – they made the whole thing into a PERFORMANCE, or a story that everyone wants to hear.
I won’t pretend that I’m anywhere near the level of presenters like Steve Jobs or Bill Clinton, but I did my best. I added more visuals. I cut out studies that would have been interesting, but didn’t add to my overall message. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m pretty proud of what I managed to put together.
In business, some people assume that if you just build a great product or have all the facts, customers will buy. This computer has an 8GB RAM! This app can sync data across all your devices! This kopi-o tastes like teh-o! (I don’t know why I thought of that, but doesn’t that sound like a cool product?)
But really, it’s not just about the facts. I once had at the privilege of watching a variety of mid-level managers present to the senior management of a large MNC. The ones who got their proposals approved (and in my opinion, the ones most likely to get promoted), didn’t just recite the facts. They told a story.
3. It’s Always Harder When You Have Less Time
(Yes, that was totally a “that’s what she said” statement haha)
I was given 30 minutes to present at the Personal Financial Investment Seminar, and only 10 minutes for my presentation at INVEST Carnival. Guess which one was harder to prepare for?
That’s right – the 10 minute one.
When I had 30 minutes, I had the luxury of time: I could build up suspense, carefully construct my argument, and show more case studies to back up my case for index investing.
When I had 10 minutes, I was forced to cut out a lot of great material and keep only the core. That might be easy for a simplistic product like a frying pan, but try doing that for a complex concept like index investing. Not easy at all.
It’s always harder when you have less time.
It’s tough to become a millionaire overnight. Why do you think I advocate investing for 20-30 years? Because it’s extremely difficult for most people to make money by trading in the short-term. (Don’t let the scammers tell you otherwise!) But if you stretch out your timeframe and be patient, that million dollars will seem way more possible.
4. Things Will Go Wrong
You’ve already heard about how I “zhao xia-ed” during the Personal Finance Investment Seminar.
Well, when I spoke at INVEST Carnival, I had an even BIGGER boo-boo.
I was working my way through my introduction, when my brain literally froze. Imagine having 150 people stare at you while having absolutely no idea of what to say next. If you haven’t tried it before, you should. It’s a surreal experience.
I panicked for about 5 seconds, then I stopped and said, “Wow. My brain froze. I totally forgot what I’m supposed to say next.” That moment of honestly helped my mind to relax, and my next point came back to me quickly.
In presentations, business and life, something will go wrong. Things will never be perfect, so don’t expect them to be. Just take the challenges as they come.
5. Have The Audience’s Interests At Heart
It sickens me whenever I attend financial events, and some douche in a suit gets up on stage and brags about how he got a 312% return, and then resorts to some boiler-room technique to hard-sell his product, while pumping his fist in the air screaming “BIG MONEY BIG MONEY!!”
What’s the trouble with presentations like these? (Besides the fact that they’re sleazy as hell?) The trouble is that any smart person can tell that the presenter is doing this for himself – He doesn’t have the audience’s best interests at heart.
I don’t blame Singaporeans for being suspicious of the finance industry here. The sad fact is that most investment-related companies are focused solely on the SALE. Walk into any financial event and you have 20 people shoving brochures in your face. Take a few steps forward and some smooth-talking guy in a suit tries to corner you into his booth. All these people care about is converting you on the spot and getting that sale.
Contrast this with people like Alvin Chow from BigFatPurse, Jared Seah from Singapore Man Of Leisure or any of the other bloggers I had the honour of sharing the stage with. They presented with no hidden agenda, no fake enthusiasm, and no pushy sales talk. All they want is to impart their knowledge in a sincere, genuine way.
That’s why I’m proud to be associated with these bloggers. We may not drive around in Ferarris or own 20 condos, but we sleep well at night knowing that whatever we teach is in the best interest of OUR audience. Because what’s the point of being rich if it’s at the expense of other people?
People do business with people they trust. Have your audience’s best interest at heart, whether you’re a presenter, an entrepreneur, or an employee of an MNC.
Be genuine. Be honest. Be real.
Because when the curtain goes down, that’ll ultimately determine whether you truly deserve the applause.