By Joe Apfelbaum, EO New York member and CEO of Ajax Union
Nothing is worse than standing in front of a group of your peers and not feeling confident. Well, maybe one thing is worse—the sound of someone snoring during your first public-speaking event!
When Google approached me to lead seminars on their behalf, I happily agreed to become the only certified Google Trainer in New York City, because I would be teaching the masses what I was already teaching successful business owners and entrepreneurs one on one. During my first seminar, I recall using the word “basically” one too many times and pacing in front of my audience. Although people appreciated my passion and knowledge, I cringed just thinking about the next time I’d have to do this. I was exhausted from anxiety and overwhelmed by dread.
I’ve come a long way since then as a public speaker. As an expert in business and online marketing, I know that I was qualified for my first speaking event. But in my head, my first presentation was a train wreck. There are many skills that I now recognize I was lacking at that initial presentation. In addition to not being aware of my nervous ticks, I was also overweight and felt constantly lousy about it. I was lacking the courage, the confidence and the morale. I felt entirely unprepared. I needed to change.
After that disappointing public-speaking event, I made it my mission to become the best presenter I could be. I spoke to everyone I knew and analyzed every speaker I saw to learn how to speak successfully. But even with these skills, I knew there was something out of sync. I was preaching for people to improve on their business, yet I was still unhappy about my weight and appearance. That’s when I knew that I had to get serious about my weight loss if I wanted to improve as a public speaker.
I turned to my friends and started using social media. I had dozens of people inspiring me. I began running for Facebook likes— one “like” per pound. In 90 days, I lost 33 pounds. Every pound I lost was a bit of confidence gained. I re-established my relationship with Amazon.com and ordered an instructional book every week. I attended more networking events in one month than some of my colleagues attended all year. I knew that in order to improve as a speaker, I had to allocate time from my daily schedule to learn. And by motivating myself, I learned to motivate others.
It worked. I never thought I’d get over my first experience of fright onstage. But I now realize that I owe my initial audience a “thank you.” Without such a disastrous first speaking experience, I would not have been so acutely aware of how much room I had to improve. Public speaking helped me affirm that as a CEO, I am a role model. I want to be motivated, to live longer, to learn as much as I can.
It’s not that it was easy. Balancing a 10-hour day at work, a four-hour networking event and countless hours with my three kids was a challenge then. It’s still very much a challenge today. But public speaking helped me go from being a good CEO to being a great CEO.
So what’s my advice for proprietors who want to improve their business? Begin with public speaking. Be proactive. Own your day. Give it a chance, work on it and work on yourself in the process. You’ll grow — both as a leader and as an individual. I know I did.