I have a confession to make. Public speaking is one of my biggest challenges on my journey to improvement. Since I enjoy challenges I am determined to face my fear and accept as many speaking engagements as possible.

It’s not  that I am afraid that an audience member will ask a question I can’t answer. I know my topic. In fact I am  passionate about my topic.  It’s not that I don’t like to travel. I love to travel whether it’s to Australia or to downtown Houston. So what am I afraid of? I’ve ask myself often and I think I finally have the answer – boring the audience. It’s absolutely awful to stand in front of a group (small or large) and get blank stares. I’m not a mind reader but I do know that a blank stare translates to: “you are boring the heck out of me”, “who gives a rats back side about what you are talking about” or “I’d rather be anywhere else than here at this very moment!”

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to students at Hilton College, University of Houston. The opportunity came due to social media. Dr. Karl Titz joined the LinkedIn Group:  Houston Franchise Business Network that Lorri Wyndham, COMPUTER EXPLORERS Operations Manager established. He contacted Lorri indicating that he was seeking franchise speakers. We accepted even though neither one of us had experience speaking to a group of University students.

When we arrived at the University, students were outside enjoying one of Houston’s best spring days. They were gathered in groups enjoying the sunshine and we saw very few in the halls on our way to the auditorium. Now imagine our audience arriving. Young entrepreneurs just returning from spring break. One young lady  admitted to having a great time in Mexico but felt miserable due to a severe sunburn. Several inquired about their grades which the professor had not yet posted and we could feel their anxiousness. One gentleman came in very late quietly taking a seat in the very back hoping the professor didn’t notice his tardiness.

We opened our presentation and I can’t say that we were receiving blank stares from the group. It was more “I’d rather be anywhere else than here at this moment.”

Challenge on! First thing I reminded myself was  “I know my topic. I’m passionate about my topic. Do and say almost anything not to bore my audience!” One of the best pieces of advice I have received about public speaking is to engage the audience by telling a story. I thought about this before I started but I came up empty. I couldn’t prepare a particular story that related to my topic of franchising. 

I turned the tables and started to ask my own questions. The professor informed me the class had conducted research and would be  giving presentations on a  franchise they planned to purchase.  I asked them to tell me about their franchise and their due diligence. An eager  hand went up in the back of the room from the young man who arrived late with a response “I am going to buy a Subway franchise!” There were giggles in the room and immediately my story came to life. I asked if in his research he learned anything about Fred DeLuca. He replied he did. Lorri and I launched into our story how we met Fred at IFA  (International Franchise Association) and witnessed his first Tweets. I’m not sure if he was more impressed that we met Fred DeLuca or that Fred used Twitter. Either way we had instant credibility and the rest of our presentation became an engaged interchange with the students.

There is no challenge more challenging than the challenge to improve yourself. — Michael F. Staley