From introducing yourself at meetings to interacting with vendors or customers, communication is an integral part of everyday life for all business owners. That includes leadership coaches, photographers, public speakers, computer consultants, freelance writers, and anyone else who operates a “micro business.”
One such business is owned by Praveen Zade, a Toastmaster in Pune, India. Co-founder of a web-based company started four years ago to offer made-to-measure clothing, Zade struggled to give talks that held the audience’s attention and conveyed his message clearly. In February 2019, he joined Toastmasters for Pune Entrepreneurs, a club formed by start-up founders. “Toastmasters has made me a better listener, a better thinker, and a better speaker than I used to be,” he says.
Zade is among the many entrepreneurs who have joined Toastmasters to learn and practice their communication skills. Approximately 53,000 Toastmasters own a business, according to 2019 member demographics from Toastmasters International. For these “Toastpreneurs,” club meetings provide opportunities to network, rehearse business pitches, find mentors, and gain hands-on leadership experience that carries over to their entrepreneurial endeavors.
Click play to hear an exclusive interview with the author Lynne Strang and the hosts of The Toastmasters Podcast.
Micro Businesses and Their Communication Challenges
While definitions vary, micro businesses typically have fewer than 10 employees and less than 250,000 in annual sales. Often, the business has a single owner with no employees. In all countries, the vast majority of enterprises (between 70% and 95%) are micro businesses, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
As the world emerges from COVID-19, some micro-business owners will begin to rebuild, and some who lost corporate jobs will join their ranks. “What is certain is that businesses everywhere, in a forthcoming brave new post-COVID-19 world, will need to increase their capacity to adapt, improving their flexibility, resilience, and responsiveness. This is exactly where small- to medium-business owners’ strengths tend to lie,” says a 2020 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report.
To succeed in a post-pandemic marketplace, new and veteran business owners must also confront their communication challenges. Some business owners avoid public speaking because they harbor a fear of the unknown. As a result, they miss speaking opportunities that can help them build confidence, establish credibility, and create awareness of their brand. This can be especially detrimental for micro enterprises, which typically depend upon word-of-mouth advertising to obtain referrals.
Basile Lemba of Galloping Governors Toastmasters Club in Fairfax, Virginia, feels consistent practice in front of his club helped him become a more confident speaker. “It’s like a professional basketball player who goes to the gym and spends hours practicing a shot,” says Lemba, founder of a company that hosts expos, monthly breakfasts, and other business networking events. “Now you can take that shot and you’re not worrying about it.”
When owners of small businesses give talks to generate sales or raise capital, poor presentation techniques may undermine their goals. Some ramble. Others go overboard with minutiae. As a result, the audience tunes out before the presenter can make the “ask.”
Communication Skills to Master for Business
On the flip side, the micro-business owner with solid communication skills is better positioned to get buy-in as well as resolve disputes, respond to customer emails, leverage social media, and negotiate better deals. Successful communicators in business tend to be strong in these areas:
Listening – “My biggest challenge is listening to hear, not just to respond,” says Gwendolyn E.V. Monroe, an Atlanta, Georgia-based Toastmaster whose businesses include a leadership coaching practice. Active listening makes others feel valued, reduces mistakes, and produces better feedback for employees.
Storytelling – While most businesspeople can present facts and figures, what’s often missing is the emotion. Savvy start-up owners tell their story in a compelling, memorable way. This grabs attention and gets the audience excited about what they have to offer.
Organization – Skilled business communicators use a well-defined structure to organize their thoughts and present them in a logical order, focusing on what the audience wants to hear.
Persuasion – Business owners contend with a variety of situations—from negotiating contracts to coaxing decision makers—that require an ability to persuade. You’re more likely to get the results you want when you appeal to your audience’s interests.
How to Tap Your Toastmasters Training
As you begin or continue your entrepreneurial journey, it’s wise to evaluate how you measure up in each of these areas. Use this self-knowledge to determine where you need to improve, and which Toastmasters activities will benefit you the most in your role as a business owner. Some options:
Choose a Pathways learning path aligned with your mission. Lemba, for example, chose Presentation Mastery because its projects focus on developing speaking techniques and improving connections with audience members. These skills apply to his networking business, which involves facilitating discussions, introducing speakers, and leading workshops.
Join a club for small-business owners. Monroe says belonging to Your Small Business Toastmasters in Atlanta enhances her business experience. “The conversations we have and the speeches we give serve the core needs of entrepreneurs,” she says.
Practice your pitches. When possible, use club meetings to rehearse and refine upcoming presentations. There’s no safer place to learn from mistakes.
Fill meeting roles that strengthen weaknesses. To improve your ability to give positive, constructive feedback, serve as an evaluator. Other examples: Sign up as the grammarian to sharpen listening skills, or the timer to become more mindful of the clock during your talks.
Serve as a club officer. Each position—from President to Sergeant at Arms—teaches both communication and leadership skills (such as team building, problem solving, and strategic planning) needed in business.
Expand your network. For micro-business owners, making new connections is one of the most valuable aspects of Toastmasters. “My club has not only answered my ‘why’ but it has opened doors to other venues and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Monroe.
Gain visibility. Participate in a club, Area, or District-level speakers bureau to increase awareness of your professional expertise within your community.
While owning a business can be rewarding, it isn’t easy. In today’s challenging economy, the micro-business owners who succeed will be the ones with strong communication skills. Take advantage of every opportunity to improve yours.
Lynne Strang, DTM is a member of Galloping Governors Advanced Toastmasters and Sparkling Speakers Toastmasters, both in Fairfax, Virginia. She is a freelance writer and the author of Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40.
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