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How to get better at speaking

How (and why!) to become a better speaker and presenter for your business.  If you view your vegan business as your activism, then you owe it to the vegan cause to become better at speaking and communicating so that you can reach a bigger audience. But for most of us, the idea of standing on a stage in front of people, or even just ‘going live’ on social media, can be terrifying. 

In this episode, David shares his secrets for becoming a better speaker after having spoken at hundreds of events and online seminars himself. But he wasn’t always as practised and confident as he comes across now, so we look at the techniques you can use to improve, how you can find bigger and better speaking opportunities as you gain confidence and what happened when Jay Charlton from Viva La Vegan got over her fears and agreed to join David onstage at Chris Evans’ Carfest.

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Episode transcript:

Hello and welcome to episode eighty-seven of The Vegan Business Tribe Podcast with myself David Pannell, co-founder of Vegan Business Tribe. And if you have a vegan business, or are thinking of starting one, then Vegan Business Tribe is here to support and inspire you not just to build a vegan business, but to build a SUCCESSFUL vegan business.

And in today’s session we’re talking about something which is very relevant to me, because a lot of the feedback we get about this podcast is about how I deliver them – about the energy of the podcast, and many people say that I’m just naturally a good speaker. But I’m not. I’m really not – and this always comes as a suprise to people because when I talk in normal conversation I fall over my words, I talk too fast, I am short-tongued, so I cannot pronounce my R’s like the rest of the population can and on top of all that I’m dyslexic too. And dyslexia isn’t just about reading and writing, we get our words mixed up when speaking too. BUT, I LEARNED how to be a good speaker, and I’ve done that through practice, through experience and through a lot of watching and listening back to myself. However, doing all that can be really cringeworthy and the idea of listening back to yourself give a presentation may just be too much to bear right now! So, we’re also going to talk about WHY you need to become a better speaker, not just for your business, but also to help you spread the vegan message – which is, in part, the reason why you have a vegan business in the first place!

But before we get into that, let me just quickly remind you that this podcast is only something like 10% of everything that goes on at Vegan Business Tribe. If you want to grow your vegan business, if you need support and advice, then come and join us over on – that’s where you will find all our masterclasses and courses, it’s where you can join us on our regular online networking meet-ups and business clinics, and it’s where you can get direct access not just to myself and Lisa but our entire community of vegan business owners through our Community Hub. And you get all that for less than you would pay if you bought a cup of coffee a week from your local coffeeshop.

And we have got so much going on at VBT at the moment – we’ve just released our Vegan Sector Update 2022 which was a live event where I shared the latest statistics and opportunities from the vegan sector. And the full recording of that is now live in our member’s area of our Vegan Business Academy for you to watch back – and if you are doing ANYTHING in the vegan sector then I would really advise you go watch the full session to bring you bang up to date. We’ve also just done a soft-launch of our new member directory – at the moment you can only get access to it from the member dashboard but we are planning to make it fully public in the next few weeks. And you can use the directory to search through our hundreds of members, you can filter people by country or business sector and just really see who else you can connect with in the tribe. So if you’re looking for a vegan SEO expert or a vegan accountant then you can currently get access to the directory through your member dashboard before we make it public.

And remember that it’s our membership side that funds Vegan Business Tribe. So if you really love what we’re doing then please do consider signing up as a full member, not only will you be getting a lot of value yourself but you’ll also be enabling us to keep putting out this podcast and doing all the work we do to champion the vegan business scene around the world!

So let’s get into today’s session, and I actually want to start by sharing a recording from Jay Charlton, the founder of Viva La Vegan Clothing that she recorded last week at Carfest in the UK:

Hi guys. I am hopping on here from CarFest We have been here for the last three days. Chris Evans actually has created a vegan village in his SpaFest area of CarFest which is amazing. We’ve had this platform to promote and discuss veganism. So yesterday, myself, David from Vegan Business Tribe and Sue Joyce from Little Green Pigeon Sanctuary, we were all part of the panel (actually we followed Ediie Izzard!) and we were talking about veganism and vegan living and we had some really interesting questions, especially from some meat eaters which was brilliant. And then as I was leaving, A member of production actually jumped in front of me and was like “I’m a meat eater, but I really think I should be vegan”. 

And so we spent some time talking and I gave her some documentaries and some information for her to carry on doing her research at home and hopefully start her vegan journey. I’ve also spoken to a load of vegetarians who just didn’t know about the dairy industry, and I think I’ve shocked a few of them, but also given them some information that they can go on and further research. They seem really, really interested and very upset actually. Now Luke’s just got back and we’ve just been allowed on to the site so he’s just the van round and we are packing up the store. So from a very enjoyable and effective, in terms of animal activism, Carfest, I bid you good night!

It’s always great to hear from Jay, and if you haven’t come across Viva La Vegan Clothing then go check out their website becaue they are the most ethical vegan company you will ever find and a lot of the money they make goes back into supporting some wonderful sanctuaries and animal campaigns such as Camp Beagle. But the reason I wanted to play that was because, as Jay said at the start of the clip, it’s taken a lot of cajoling to get Jay onto a stage or in front of a microphone. And if you know Jay you would think that’s ridiculous, because she’ll do a full weekend-long stretch on her stall at an event talking to people about veganism, she’s an activist, she had a career in the fashion industry before she launched Viva La Vegan and she is someone who you just stop and listen to. But put a microphone or camera in front of her and she’ll run! So, when we got the opportunity to take a bunch of vegans on stage at Chris Evan’s Carfest Festival last weekend to talk about veganism, you know – this huge public festival full of non-vegans – I knew that I really wanted Jay on that stage with me as someone who can talk passionately about veganism and to give her a platform to talk about her company. And Jay said no 8 times. So I asked her a ninth time and she finally said she’d think about it.

And I get it. I’ve felt that fear when you’re asked to speak, I’ve spent those evenings getting sweaty and word-tied trying to record videos of myself and then deleting them all again because I couldn’t get my words out. I’ve been the one hiding in the bathroom before I was due to speak at an event freaking out. And yeah, I know – you would never know it now. But it’s BECAUSE I’ve been through all these things that I can get up and speak at events now like I do. It’s because I’ve spent hours and hours trying to record myself and being less than impressed with the results but put them out there anyway – it’s because of all this that I now sound a lot better when I’m recording a podcast or a workshop. I’ve learnt lots of techniques and mechanisms by getting it wrong over and again. And I still get some nerves when I’m doing an event, everyone does – you need to be a little bit nervous to give a good presentation – but the reason I now go into the talks I do with some confidence is because I’ve done so many before and I have developed my tools and tricks. I have my mental checklists I go through before speaking and I have a lot of confidence in what I know.

But Jay from Viva La Vegan, at the moment she only has the last one of those things. She has confidence in what she knows, she has built a brilliant company and is a regular activist and she was brilliant on stage once we managed to get her on there and she’s now working on those other things. But the reason that Jay is taking those steps, to start speaking at events, to get in front of the camera and to start thinking about leveraging her personal brand, is because she knows that ‘the mission’ is far more important than her nerves about speaking. If we want to promote our businesses we have to become the voice of our businesses. People connect far better with a company when they connect with the people who are at the centre of it. Apple would not have been as effective if Steve Jobs had never come out from behind his desk. Virgin would not have dominated so many different sectors if Richard Branson had not been willing to build a brand around himself. And both were extremely awkward people by nature. Neither Steve Jobs or Richard Branson were natural speakers, or if we’re being honest even very GOOD speakers. But they both had passion and they both had things to say that people wanted to hear. And as Jay hinted in that clip, that ‘mission’, that mission of our businesses, of the vegan cause, is why we ALL owe it to ourselves to become better at speaking, to become better at communicating. If you KNOW that you can help people, if you know that by buying your product or service someone’s problem is going to be solved, then it is your DUTY to get better at communicating that and reaching a wider audience. And if, at the same time, you are going to knock an animal product off the shelf or if your business has the potential to be the start of someone’s vegan journey, then you owe it to the animals to put aside all those excuses for not wanting to get in front of the camera and not wanting to get on that stage so that you can reach more people. This is bigger than that.

And, trust me, it’s not going to do your business any harm either. By posting that video on her social media, which was just recorded on her phone at the end of the day, Jay got three times as many views, likes and comments as she’d normally get on her posts. And you will notice that Jay wasn’t talking about her clothes that she designs and sells, she was giving people a reason to connect with the ethical mission of her business.

So how do we do this? How do you get past all those obstacles that are stopping you from getting in front of the camera or on the stage so that you can take your message to a wider audience? And once you do it, how can you get methodically better as a speaker? Well, look at it this way – you want this to be hard! Why on earth would I say that? Because if something is hard to start doing, then it’s what we call a ‘barrier to entry’. If you can get past that barrier, then you’re going to find fewer of your competitors doing the same thing and that gives you an advantage over them.

And regardless of how you feel about speaking, getting started is actually easier than you think. No one is going to ask you onstage to speak in front of thousands of people for your first speaking gig. That person you are listening to onstage, the reason that they are there and you are sat in the audience is not because they were born a natural speaker, it’s because they had something worthwhile to say. And they started by learning how to say it to small groups of people first. So, the first thing you need to do is to start saying what YOU have to say. Take a leaf out of Jay from Viva La Vegan Clothing’s book and start sharing videos about what you think and what’s important to you. Use these throw-away opportunities that social gives us to start getting your thoughts in order and seeing how they land with people. Do it on social, do it on YouTube and get comfortable talking to the camera on your phone.

And doing this in a small and simple way isn’t just about getting visibility, it’s also about developing your ‘material’. When I speak at an event, or if I’m being interviewed, it’s rare that I make an original comment. I’ve got tales and examples that I’ve shared many times, I already know my story and how to tell it, I’ve got responses to common questions that I can call on – and I developed these over time. If someone asks me in an interview what my advice would be to someone thinking about starting a vegan business, I don’t want to have to sit and think about it. I want to have answered that question before and have a familiar response tripping off my tongue without having to think about it. And the only way to have that is to have already spent a lot of time talking about your thoughts and working them out, not in front of hundreds of people necessarily, but just in front of your phone or webcam.

So start now. Do it on social, do it on YouTube, do it at online networking events or online sessions, so that when you ARE stood in front of a few hundred people you’ve already developed your own stock answers and really insightful thoughts. Get a friend or partner to start asking you questions and record the answers. As well as using it as an opportunity to work out your material and developing those stock phrases, it will also give you a lot of content to post at the same time!

And then once you’re getting comfortable talking about your views, start looking for those opportunities to speak. Start with small opportunities first, for example our Vegan Business Tribe member Shabari Das runs the World Vegan Market on Facebook, and if you take out a virtual Facebook stall with her then there’s also an opportunity for Shabari to interview you live on her Facebook page. Many of our members have started out with an interview with Shabari as their first time in front of the camera. Shabari is genuinely interested in the people she interviews and is so full of positive energy that it’s hard to not just get carried along. But it’s also a brilliant first speaking experience: it’s online, Shabari is leading the conversation and you can’t see any of the people who are watching you!

Start to look for more of these kinds of smaller opportunities. Throw yourself into them and make all the mistakes you ARE going to make while there are just a small number of people watching you. They might be online, or they might be in the real world. If a business group you belong to puts a call out for speakers then jump at the opportunity. If a vegan fair has an offer to upgrade your stall booking to include a short speakers slot then take it. The actual number of people watching you, especially in the early days, doesn’t matter. What matters is the experience… and the photographs. Yes, you heard me right there. Now, you are going to call me cynical, but every event I’ve spoken at (digital or in the real world) more people have seen the photos of me speaking at that event afterwards than were in the audience on the day. And this is on purpose. Part of speaking at events is getting known as a ‘speaker’, it’s about the assumed authority that comes with that. And if you have a social media page full of pictures of you speaking and presenting at events then obviously you are someone that people want to listen to. And the more you do, the easier it is to get speaking slots at bigger and more high-profile events. I was a speaker at the Global Vegan Finance Seminar this year – you were likely not in the audience but guess how amazing that looks to someone looking to book a speaker to talk about the vegan sector for their big food & drink event. Does it matter that it was an online event and I did it from our converted spare room wearing a pair of shorts? Not at all. It’s already led to me being asked to speak at two other industry events later this year, not by people who saw my talk, but who saw the PHOTO from the event that I shared on LinkedIn.

And this is what I want you to do too. I want you to use your first smaller events to get bigger events. Play them up a little, make sure you’ve got someone in the audience to take photos and make sure everyone you know sees that you were asked to speak. I want you to build your persona as someone who obviously has something interesting to say, else how would you have got booked to speak at all these other events? And do I want you to do this for your ego? No, not at all. Do I want you to do it to help your business, well yes – but more importantly I’m wanting you to do this to help further the vegan cause at the same time. I don’t want to get speaking slots at these big food and drink events to help raise the profile of Vegan Business Tribe, I’m not going to find many potential members there. I want to get the speaking slot to bring the vegan agenda to the conversation. Pretty much every food and drink sector expo I’ve been to where they have discussed the vegan and plant-based sector, it’s been non-vegans talking about it on stage. And they have missed out huge reasons why the vegan sector is growing and what’s motivating plant-based consumers because they are not connected with the ethical side of the sector. They are not reading the hard research from The Vegan Society on consumers’ changing viewpoints on veganism. They need someone who understands both sides of the sector, the hard business side and the ethics, to help motivate them to create more and better plant-based products. And I want to do that. And I want YOU to be that person too. I want you to be the person in your sector who is getting the informed vegan message out there, not just to vegans, but to the non-vegans too. And if that means taking some very selective photos to crop out the fact that you only had twenty people in the audience so that you get invited to those bigger speaking opportunities, then we’ll live with that!

But it’s not all just smoke and mirrors. There is genuinely a lot you can do to learn to be a better speaker. Speaking and presenting is a skill like any other. The more you do it, and the more you practice it, the better you get at it. And this is where recording yourself and then watching or listening back to that recording is really important. Now I know, the first time you do this it will be cringe-worthy. You might really struggle at the start, but as we’ve already said – this is bigger than you feeling a bit embarrassed, and the more you do it, the easier it gets. But don’t think of the person you are watching back as you, create a little bit of separation with that person so that you can be more critical without the personal cringe. Watching yourself back will highlight all the things that you do or say without realising. Or you will notice that you trail off all the time, or that you don’t speak in actual sentences. It will be embarrassing at first but you can’t improve without doing it. For me, I realised I used the word ‘absolutely!’ whenever I started an answer to a question: “Do you think that the vegan sector is growing?”, “Absolutely!”; “Do you want to tell me how you started Vegan Business Tribe?”, “Absolutely!”; “Do you breath air yourself?”, “Absolutely!”. I mean, once you heard it you couldn’t un-hear it, it became comical. I must have been saying it for years but I never realised until I started watching back and listening to recordings of me speaking.

Also remember that part of presenting is entertaining. Learn to be interesting to watch. Massively over-emphasise the things you say. Throw your arms about. Move around, become a bit of an entertainer when you speak – because while you are doing it you will feel you are being too over the top, you will think you’re giving it ten. But it will come across as a three to your audience and you’ll see this when you watch yourself back.

You will also probably be speaking WAY too fast. I naturally speak really fast, my brain just throws things at my mouth which makes me stumble over my words when I have a conversation and I’ve done a LOT of work on bringing down my words per minute when I’m presenting. Not only does speaking slower give your brain more time to forge a sentence, but it also, strangely, makes you sound more professional too. I naturally speak at around 180 words per minute, which is way too fast, but when I’m presenting I aim for about 140 or 150 words per minute. This slows me down, lets me think about the words coming out of my mouth, but it still gives some energy to what I’m saying. YOU might want to slow right down to 100 WORDS PER MINUTE if you really want people to think about what you are saying. If you’re a fast speaker like me it will feel like you are speaking comically slow, but listen to yourself back and you will be amazed how much it improves your speaking style. To practice this, simply read out a script and see how many words you’ve got to in 60 seconds. That gives you your words per minute or WPM. Keep slowing down until you get it down to about 120 or 130 words per minute and see what difference it makes. Trust me, if you’re someone who stumbles over their sentences all the time, then the solution is to JUST SLOW DOWN…

Another tip I learned is to practice and memorise both your intro and your outro, even if you’re using a script. Knowing and being familiar with the first few lines you are going to say gives you a lot of confidence. The same with how you close your talk. When you get to your final slide or end of an interview, you want to have your wrap-up memorised and well-practised so that you can confidently tell people where they can find out more about you and what their next step should be in contacting you or working with you.

And finally, go and watch the session I did with one of our members Steven Trister, who is an ex stand-up comic turned speaking coach who put me through my paces in a masterclass session that we recorded for the member section of the Vegan Business Tribe website. Steven is really great at making you connect with the words you are actually saying so that you can say them in a more powerful way. Coaching like this genuinely helps – even just doing a couple of sessions with someone. And if you can find a vegan one like Steven Trister, then even better. And you will find the more you improve and the more public speaking you do, the more addictive it becomes, the more authority it will give you. And, if you have something interesting to say, then in the world we live in now you are only a few steps from speaking regularly on social media to headlining a conference.

So now you’re all raring to go and want to get started, let’s wrap this up with a bullet point rundown of how you too can become a better speaker. Trust me, if I can do it – you can do it!

1. Your mission is far bigger than your nerves about speaking. If you KNOW that by buying your product or service someone’s problem is going to be solved, someone’s life is going to be massively improved, then it is your DUTY to get better at communicating that.

2. It’s also part of your activism. If someone buying your product knocks an animal product off the shelf, or if your company might be an entry point for someone’s vegan journey, then you owe it to the animals to put aside all those excuses for not publically speaking so that you can reach more people.

3. We want this to be hard to get started, because if it is hard then that’s going to be a barrier to entry to your competition too. You will be the one gaining all that visibility while they are not able to get past that initial embarrassment.

4. Start small, start by using social media and YouTube to simply work out your thoughts and positions on things. You need to have stock phrases and answers already worked out and familiar to you, you need to have already developed your ‘material’ before you start speaking to bigger audiences. Once you have, start looking for those smaller speaking opportunities. Pay for that upgrade at your local vegan fair to do a speaker slot.

5. A good photo of you speaking at an event is probably more important than the presentation you did! Far more people will see the photo on social media than were in the audience, so use this to gain credibility and get invited to speak at bigger events.

6. Record yourself and watch back the recording. It will be cringe-worthy and difficult at first, but you’ll start to spot all your idiosyncrasies and you’ll vastly improve as a speaker because of it.

7. Learn to slow your speech down. Record and time yourself and see what a difference it makes when you’re speaking at 120 or 140 words per minute instead of 180! Give your brain the chance to form full sentences!

8. Learn your intro and outro by heart. It gives you a lot of confidence when you know what the first words coming out of your mouth are going to be.

9. Go get some coaching. Even a couple of sessions can make a huge difference – and definitely watch the masterclass session we recorded with Steven Trister on how to be a better speaker – and that’s in the Masterclasses section of the Vegan Business Tribe Academy.

And that is it!

So, if you are speaking at an event, then tag us into it. Share it in our Community Hub, and make sure you share the photos with us so we can shout about you. And if you found this information really helpful and you are not one of our members yet, then do go check out the website over at I can’t let you escape before giving it another final plug, because as I said – we are funded by our members. So if you love what we do and want to support us then I would love you to come onboard too. Not just so that we can help you, but so that we can help vegan businesses all over the world skill up and scale up and make a real impact on the world. This is your activism, your business is your way to help us move the vegan cause forwards, so come join other people who are on that very same mission and I guarantee that it will help you achieve that mission far quicker.

So thank you for giving up your time to listen, and if you’re listening on a podcast app if you could just tap the subscribe button, or give us a 5-star rating or even a written review then would be even more amazing. Go check out the website if you’re not a member yet and I will see you on the next one!

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