Presentation tips to win funding & customers

Updated 3/14/2014 – The post was an email I sent to my newsletter subscribers before speaking at the 2013 Lean Startup Conference (I actually wrote this on the flight from Beijing to San Francisco). After thousands of people saw my presentation I started getting inquiries to do Workshops worldwide. These tips will change your startup & career – see the updated results below.


Speaking skills matter for entrepreneurs – and you can learn them

Public speaking is a game-changing skill for entrepreneurs and often the key to getting customers or funding. Every time you get in front of an audience you have an opportunity position yourself as an expert – take advantage of it.

This year I was selected as one of the main stage speakers at Eric Ries’s Lean Startup conference. The conference organizers gave me some great training that I’ll share with you here.

Follow these simple tips and you will become a better presenter.


Speaker as a UI – give the audience tools to achieve a goal

I never understood why some of my speeches were well-received … and some … were … duds.

Kathy Sierra gave me speaker coaching and I now understand why. Her advice was to “think of myself as a User Interface (UI)” – that is, to put 99% of my preparation into giving the audience powerful tools to accomplish a goal. Learning something new is vastly more important to the audience than the speaker’s delivery or slide beauty.

In fact, when you learn a new skill from a speech you probably don’t even notice the speaker’s delivery or slides – exactly the way a great UI works. A great UI never gets noticed because we’re too busy achieving our goals.

Check out this training video from Kathy to learn more.


Address key objections directly

How many times have you watched a speech and thought, “well I can’t do that because…” Our brains are wired to reject new ideas because they challenge how we view the world.

Know the audience’s objections and address them early – it keeps them engaged.


Beat your nerves with “Wonder Woman” confidence

Public speaking isn’t easy – especially for those of us who come from a technical background. Amy Cuddy has identified some simple tricks anyone can use to overcome stage fright.

Amy’s simple recommendation? Take up more space.

That’s it. Uncross your legs if you’re sitting, stand with your legs apart if you’re standing, open your arms. This is exactly what politicians and great entrepreneurs do. Can you imagine Linda Carter curled up in a fetal position? I sure can’t.



Use meditation techniques to “observe” your nervousness.

Meditation helps me observe what is happening in my mind to free myself from being controlled by it.

I’m ALWAYS nervous when I step on stage. Always. I overcome its effects by “observing” how nervous I am. I ask myself, “how nervous am I and what effect is it having on my respiration, heartbeat, etc.?”

Just they act of observing my nerves mitigates their impact.

Kathy & Sarah Milstein have some other simple tips in this training video.


Use pictures & just a few words in your slides

I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying that since I’ve moved to Asia I’ve seen a lot of really, really bad presentations. I’m talking about slide after slide packed illegible paragraphs of 10 pt font. This is far less common today in the US where entrepreneurs get presentation skill training.

I suggest checking out Garr Reynolds’s great Google Talk on presentation skills and making great slides. It is a great starting point.


Finish strong

Ever wonder why the movie’s best song is at the end? Directors want you to leave the movie upbeat. Do the same in your speech – finish strong.


It takes practice – but it’s worth it.

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

― Jerry Seinfeld

I know, I know, you’re terrified of speaking or don’t feel like you’re good at it. But as entrepreneurs we often have to win people over by getting them to believe in us as much as our ideas. Start small in a comfortable setting – technical talks are great opportunities. You and your delivery don’t matter if you give the audience useful skills as I suggest above.

Get good at it and your skills will win customers and funding. I’ve seen terribly shy people become great presenters. You can do it, I promise.


How I prepared to speak at the 2013 Lean Startup Conference

Powerful skills – how to do Customer Development in Asia

I live in Beijing, China and have seen some entrepreneurs fail miserably at Customer Development because they assumed what works in Silicon Valley will work everywhere. My goal was to give them some simple tips for avoiding this mistake.

Key objection – “But I’m in America – why do I care?”

Since most of my audience was Westerners I began by helping them understand how the rise of Asian economies will impact their startup – even in America.

Finishing strong – a world of opportunity…

Too many Americans have this odd notion that the rise of Asian markets is bad news for us. My goal was to help dispel this myth and get them to see Asia as an opportunity and not a threat – I finished with this aspirational message.


And then … the big day arrives …

First the pre-speech nerves kick in …

As if the stage wasn’t intimidating enough, they put me in the same group as Reid Hoffman (Founder, LinkedIn) and Kent Beck (Legendary programmer). “Imposter syndrome” starts kicking in …


So I follow Amy Cuddy’s tip to calm myself …

Here is me in the speaker’s room – taking up space to give myself confidence


… and try to take up space on stage …

Lean Startup Conference 2013


The results? Overall I’m happy with them.


Epilogue: Try to get a speaking slot at the Lean Startup Conference

Sarah and Eric do an amazing job recruiting and training speakers – it is one of the few opportunities in the world where you can win a main stage spot based on the merit of your ideas and contribution to the Lean Startup community – and not the size of your audience or name.

Bravo, Eric and Sarah. Thanks for the opportunity.

One Comment

  1. Ramli John (@RamliJohn) March 14, 2014 at 12:07 am #

    Great post Kevin! And you’re talk was amazing. I think more needs to be done to show how Lean Startup concepts are being applied in Non-American context in Asia, India, South America and other places.

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