Public speaking strikes fear into the hearts of many. In fact, it is often said that more people fear public speaking than death. Pretty dramatic, considering a speech can be just a few minutes, while death is, well, permanent. Is it really all that bad? Not if you ask Bill and Maria Hoogterp, founders of Verona-based Own the Room.
The first thing Bill will tell you is, “get over yourself.” It’s not about you; it’s about the audience. “Most people think that the key to being a great public speaker is charisma and they also think that doing it more often makes you better,” he says. “It might make you more comfortable, but it doesn’t make you a better speaker.”
Instead, the key to being an effective speaker, Bill says, is reading the audience. Bill started public speaking after college graduation. “If the best speaker is a 10, I was a four,” he says, “but I wanted to get better.” Life took a different turn for several years, but he and his wife Maria founded Own the Room three years ago.
Own the Room, a division of Blue Planet Training, LLC—which was also founded by the Hoogterps— offers leadership training to groups across the globe in many different languages. “We get hired to help everyone, from lawyers, accountants and celebrities, and while each group has a different focus, the underlying skills we teach are the same,” Bill says. Own the Room’s 20-plus coaches teach participants to be more concise. “Most people say four sentences when they really only need two,” Bill says. They also teach being different. “Start with something unusual and something different every time,” he adds.
Ultimately, it’s all about reading the room, “catering to your audience by tailoring your message to how they react.” As Maria puts it, “if an audience can repeat what you said five days later, it is a success.”