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Going Beyond Public Speaking with Jeremy Au

In this episode of The A-Ha! Method Podcast, Jeremy Au join hosts Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan to talk about public speaking. Jeremy goes beyond the traditional discussion about public speaking and expands on many creative elements and uses of public speaking through storytelling, improv, and even stand-up comedy.

Jeremy initially did not like public speaking as a kid and even shares an embarrassing story from middle school that haunted him for years. Then he grew to love it in college and finds himself using public speaking skills every day.

He has given many start-up pitches and presentations and watched many business pitches as an investor and venture capitalist (VC), and he provides some insightful tips for new founders getting started with their pitches. Jeremy shares his love for storytelling and using storytelling techniques to evoke emotions from your audience. He also discusses his improv journey and how it has helped him along the way. 

The A-Ha! Method Podcast is a podcast where hosts and founders of the Speakers Alliance Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan break down the tips, tricks and truths of great public speakers. Learn to up your speaking, pitching and meeting game in every episode.

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See below for the transcript of this podcast episode: 

There's no better way to improve your career than by becoming a better public speaker and communicator. And there's no better place to learn how to do that than with us. Welcome to The A-Ha! Method Podcast, with your hosts, Gabe Zichermann and Dayna Gowan.

Dayna Gowan:

All right, welcome everyone to The A-Ha! Method Podcast. I'm your host, Dayna Gowan.

Gabe Zichermann:

And I'm Gabe Zichermann.

Dayna Gowan:

And together we make up the Speaker's Alliance. When I think alliance, Gabe, you know what I think about?

Gabe Zichermann:

Tell me, Dayna.

Dayna Gowan:

I think about superheroes actually. A superhero's alliance and we're public speaking superhero. That's what I like to think of. We really are. I picture you more as Thor. You're the Thor superhero, you're super experienced, you can just drop the mic, lay down the hammer. You're such a great public speaker in that regard. I would say I'm more like a Robin superhero. I'm like the assistant public speaking. I'm the apprentice. I'm learning here in this journey.

Gabe Zichermann:

I hope that one of our listeners works at Marvel and that soon we will see the hammer of Gabe show up.

Dayna Gowan:

It's shaped in a microphone or something. It's a microphone hammer.

Gabe Zichermann:

Yes, exactly. It's a microphone you beat people with-

Dayna Gowan:

I love it.

Gabe Zichermann:

... when you want to change the world. I love it.

Dayna Gowan:

I bring that up because we are the Speakers Alliance and I like to think that we are your public speaking superheroes, fighting off distraction and any misinformation here. We are here to just talk all things public speaking, and we're so excited to be here. You can follow us on social media for any updates. We're on Instagram at speakers_alliance, on Twitter at Speakers Ally, and we also have public speaking practice clinics going on every week.

Gabe Zichermann:

That's right. You can find out more if you follow us on social media. You can find the time of the next public speaking clinic and bring a six-minute speech that you want to get feedback on and listen to Dayna and I tear it apart, but in the nicest possible way. We will do it in a friendly fashion. But we have several people who come and they come back week after week to practice their speeches and we love it so much and we'd love to see you at one of those.

Dayna Gowan:

I like to think that my superpower with the practice sessions, so I'm the Paula of the group. Like American Idol, I'm the nice one, and gave you're more like the Simon. I think I'm referencing some very mean 10 years ago, American Idol judges. But we both compliment each other very well.

Gabe Zichermann:

I think that Simon Cowell is still on there anyway.

Dayna Gowan:

I he? Okay, I should watch more.

Gabe Zichermann:

I think Noel. Should you? I don't know.

Dayna Gowan:

I don't know, but lots of superhero talk, lots of American Idol talk, lots of public speaking talk. It's so much fun here. Let me start. Our guest is a VC, co-founder and angel investor. He's a public speaker panelist and also hosts his own podcast, the BRAVE podcast, where he interviews trailblazing founders, investors and rising stars in Southeast Asia Tech.

He has his MBA from Harvard Business School and double honor degrees in economics and business administration from UC Berkeley. Along with many professional recognitions, such as Forbes 30 Under 30 and Prestige 40 Under 40. Well, we are in the midst of greatness here. I love it.

Gabe Zichermann:

And we're under 40.

Dayna Gowan:

Yeah. Our guest is currently living in Singapore and recently became a [inaudible 00:03:50]. Awesome. In his spare time, that he amazingly seems to have spare time and all this, he likes to go hiking, drink tea and practice improv, which is how we met. Without further ado, please welcome our first A-Ha! Method Podcast guests, Jeremy Au. Yay, Jeremy. Welcome.

Gabe Zichermann:

Hi. I'm good to be here on the show.

Dayna Gowan:

Thank you. For all our listeners there Jeremy and I met, we were in UCB improv 301 class and we just wrapped up a few weeks ago actually. I really enjoyed the class. Jeremy is an excellent improviser amongst many other talents that he has and I would friend everyone in the group and I would realize how talented everyone was in our class and I was so impressed and we'll have more of our improv classmates on here too, but Jeremy you're so experienced.

Gabe Zichermann:

I guess actually, Jeremy, I wanted to ask you about the improv experience. Because Dayna... I also took an improv course many years ago and I was way older than everyone in the course. I was barely 40 under 40. I found it really instructive and it seemed to really transform Dayna's life. How was it for you? Has it helped the way that you communicate?

Jeremy Au:

Yeah, it has and has also been a source of joy and inspiration for so many points in my life. I started improv back in Boston when very much, a lot of my Harvard classmates had moved out and I was still there working on my startup. I was like, "Hey, I'm lonely and need new friends." Desperate, crippling loneliness. Then a couple of that when-

Gabe Zichermann:

In Boston you don't say.

Jeremy Au:

You guys cold in lonely. Don't judge. Then there we are, as well having watched way too much was lies anyway growing up as a kid? They make it seem effortless as well. And so I was like, that'd be fun. And I like to think that it'd be a nice way just to hang out. I remember taking my first improv 101 at improv Boston. Shout out to them.

It was just very simple exercises and drills about, not just about at one level, feels like make-believe. But I think another thing it was about was it was about really listening to your stage partner. I learned a lot and as I started doing more and more of it. I started to realize that at one level, it was a great part of my week and I would obviously laugh and enjoy myself and a great company of people who were really funny. At the same part of time, I was learning and building a skill that was really under appreciated because it's about listening to other side, it's about improvisation.

As I did more and more of it, I think it showed up in my mind, my life and I think one beneficiary, of cause it's my wife who said that she really enjoyed obviously coming to the shows as well. But she also felt like he also helped increase my emotional range. I think one thing I do think about quite a bit is that I think in our professional careers, we're so trained, I think, to restrain our emotionality, if that makes sense.

I think the reason why we do that is because in general, we don't train or master or listen very well, and we're very much focused on what's the rational, logical thing to do, which makes a lot of sense. But I think as a result, we have the propensity to say, let's dial back our emotionality." Whereas I think what a lot of the professional's fears are and the best leaders are doing is they're saying, emotionality is still a part of any speech, any meeting, but it needs to be out the right emotion, the right tone. I think improv helps you also be able to judge and say, what is the context of the situation here? What's the other person really saying that was the appropriate range or feeling to be showing.

Gabe Zichermann:

This is such an interesting observation and a perfect segue to this week's. We always like to talk about the speeches that we've been watching this past week. In fact, the speech that I chose, emotionality is exactly the angle. Because I've been watching Greta Thunberg's talks. One of the things that's... For those who don't know her, she's a young climate activist. She's still in her teens. She has achieved a lot of renown and last week she gave a virtual presentation at the Austrian Summit, but she's on... There's a fair number of Greta Thunberg speeches.

The most interesting thing about her is that, I think she's herself as being on the autism spectrum before. I know that certainly people have observed that about her. One of the characteristics that people on not autism spectrum is it can be difficult to tune your understanding of other people's emotions well. Instead of pretending that she's doing it the way... I'm sure people have tried to coach her on being a particular way.

One of the things that I love so much about her is the incredible realness of her on the spectrum energy about climate change. She's very serious and very honest in her own particular way. But she doesn't have a lot of the characteristic flourishes that many people would associate with that topic.

Dayna Gowan:

But you're so drawn into her passion for her subject and just how she's creating emotion inside of you.

Gabe Zichermann:

And it's really her, legitimately her, which I think it's job. If not job number one, it's job number two or three for every public speaker.

Dayna Gowan:

Absolutely. Jeremy, have you been watching anything? Anything recently that you've watched, a speech or listened to that really stands out in your mind?

Jeremy Au:

I think the ones that I've been watching recently, of course during this pandemic lockdown actually surprisingly, has been, I don't know if you've watched a series called Community by Dan Harmon, which is-

Dayna Gowan:

I actually watched that too during quarantine. I think everyone's revisited it, if they haven't seen it.

Jeremy Au:

It's like all [inaudible 00:10:35] the nuts, half asynchronously discovered and we discovered Community over the past 10 years from Dan Harmon. He also created a Rick and Morty and a bunch of other great shows along the way, like HarmonQuest. I think there's this character, I think it's Joel McHale, and he's very much his stick is that he always makes a speech at the end of-

Dayna Gowan:

That's right.

Jeremy Au:

... every episode to inspire him and his group of friends. Then of course it gets increasingly recursive because people make fun and it gets more obvious, his use of analogies become funnier. But I think it's both, I think a highlight of the way I think a speech can really tie the whole story together. It often serves as a very nice capstone for the moral of the story.

And I think what's interesting about... There is at level one, it's a speech and therefore it's a powerful speech in that sense. I think level two, it's a joke because he's making fun of the fact that speeches are supposedly to have this ability to get everybody to converge.

I think lastly, I think the interesting thing is that it actually is a way to capstone the whole narrative arc of the story. I think that's a really interesting dynamic where the speech is less about a speech, but more about reminding people, and this case community, that friendship, that's the moral of story and the whole series actually, is more powerful than any specific system or ideal.

Gabe Zichermann:

Awesome.

Dayna Gowan:

I love that you got so much out of community when I think some of us just wanted to watch it to laugh and enjoy that. I love that you have such a bigger picture about it too, and it's such a great show. I need to go back and re-watch it again. It's so good. Then what I've been watching recently, I watched and I joined the virtual Moth Mainstage. They had at virtual and live in New York. It was actually, I think one of the first live ones since the pandemic.

Then you could obviously join virtually, which was great to see. The big headliner for it was Lin Manuel Miranda, and I think his name really generated some buzz. But it was excellent. They had five storytellers, all were so good and everyone, it flowed really well. Every story got better and better. I remember listening to Lin Manuel's story and I felt so many emotions.

Talking about emotionality, I was tearing up listening to it and he talked about how he went and saw the musical rent and how it told him that he was allowed to write musicals, that it was okay for him to write musicals and he went on to write this terrible musical for his high school. I took notes, I was tearing up, I felt like the tingles, and I hadn't felt that in a while.

Maybe because the speech was live even though I wasn't there, but I just felt every word of it. It was awesome and I'm really looking forward to attending a live session of the Moth soon. Hopefully LA will have one coming up. But I also want to give a shout out to the MC of the event, CJ Hunt. He was excellent. He is a comedian. He has a new documentary coming out soon. I think it just recently came out. Excellent MC, really did a great job of segwaying the next story and introducing the storytellers. A lot of lessons learned watching that hour and a half, The Moth session. With that, I think that's usually where we take a break, so let's take a quick break and then we will get onto asking Jeremy lots of serious public speaking questions.

Dayna Gowan:

And we are back. I am so excited Jeremy that you're here and I know the time difference is huge, and you're actually joining us in the morning time, your time, and I appreciate that. Jeremy, I've got a lot of questions for you. Some are improv related, some public speaking related, but my first one is, your public speaking journey, did you like public speaking as a kid? I know you do public speaking a lot now, did you like it as a kid or have you always been good at it? Did you have to learn to like it?

Jeremy Au:

Yeah. Long story short, I was terrified of speaking as a kid. The big reason was that I think I remember growing up and just being very focused and loving signs and lots of different things. Very much I remember two stories. The first was being part of the middle school drama club and just-

Dayna Gowan:

Nice.

Jeremy Au:

... deciding to be backstage. Slash, not really also being spotted for the front station. I don't think I really understood what was going on, but I think it was fear obviously. I never really articulated that to myself. Also there was the dynamic of not liking the fallout practice and structure of reading lines, that I didn't realize I didn't like about a stage. I think it wasn't the right format.

I also remember, I went up to do storytelling competition, and I remember reading roll dolls, a little red riding hood story. I remembered going to that competition and speaking in front of the whole school and it was amazing, it was fun and then in the middle of it I had forgotten what it was the next thing.

Dayna Gowan:

Oh no.

Jeremy Au:

I remember freezing up and it felt like forever.

Dayna Gowan:

You said middle school?

Jeremy Au:

Middle school. Middle school. Then I muttered to myself softly, I believed, but since I had a mic, it was loud enough and explicative, and then pulled up my note to remind myself I was, and I kept going. That was modifying, and I remember that big pit off anxiety and stomach ache that I had before when I was speaking, as well as after. I think I remember that was the worst case of cramps I ever had. That froze me out for years, I think, because of very much, if I fear I'm not a good public speaker, I never will be. And I think-

Dayna Gowan:

That's a lot of trauma too. Not only did you freeze up, but then you also cursed on stage too.

Jeremy Au:

Yeah, I know.

Dayna Gowan:

It's double weary.

Jeremy Au:

It is what it is. It's a funny story now, but back then I was just like, no.

Dayna Gowan:

How did you get over that fear and get onstage and now you do a lot of public speaking, you are a public speaker panelists, so how'd you get over that?

Jeremy Au:

I think the first call part is, I think it's an arc of self-confidence right. I went to the military for two years and was picked to be an infantry commander. Then I went off to university where I was very focused and older than my peers. I was 21 as a freshmen, which made me very popular in my dorm as you can imagine, being the local dealer for alcohol.

Dayna Gowan:

Not to incriminate yourself or anything.

Jeremy Au:

Not to incriminate myself as social limitations. Anyway. There we are, and I eventually went on to be part of a club called the Berkeley group at UC Berkeley, but very much about social impact consulting and working in nonprofits and social enterprises. I think that's where I started really doing a lot more of what I do a lot of today. Which is more, you could say business setting or professional presentations and conversely speeches as well.

And so, obviously a lot of presentations to peers, to the clients about what's going on with the business, how can we move forward? And also in parallel, doing speeches or doing information seminars for why people should join the club. I remember, and those are the big speeches when I was the president, but for years, I remember what I always do was actually I call the... this is every semester's tabling weeks. I don't know if you know what it is. But it was like all the clubs have booves along the, I don't know, mean entrance, and so people would just table that and then people would just recruit.

Because the freshmen were coming, they're looking for new clubs to join, a new semester. And so the start of every semester used to just be flyering, and I would be this working that boof. I always made it my goal like, I'm going to be the person with the most number of people. And so one person will join and I'll answer the questions, and then someone else will join and then there's this a nice way. And people always knew me as the person who was the biggest recruiter. We drew the biggest numbers at our table. I think that's where I got a lot of training, just quick reps. I think this treally speeches.

The first day has to be your bit or your anecdote, like the key, you can call it a frequently asked question and answer, which is like, how do you package that answer in the most direct way? I think the second part is very much like the key message. Those are like three or four bullet points that you really want them to walk away with for the right anecdotes and so, so forth.

I think the third thing is actually more like, again, what's the emotional heart or the narrative of this, which is if you join this club is not these logical benefits, but there's like, you get to be part of a community that's going to change the world in our small little way in our communities. It's going to be meaningful, it's going to be fun, and it's going to be hard, and it's going to be worth it. I think that's interesting.

Dayna Gowan:

Then I was going to say, Gabe and I have been talking about how short of a speech can you have? We've been talking about TikTok videos and really getting a speech in in one minute and can you do it? I think you just proved our point and that you can. You can package everything into a minute, as long as you hit those points that you said, the emotional connection, answering question, hitting your bullets, you really got to be efficient, but you can do it even in a short amount of time.

Jeremy Au:

Yeah, 100% agree. I think it's really about getting to the heart of the story, because there is so much emotional shorthand and narrative training that all of us have. If you say, when I was young, you get clued in to be like, "Okay, the setting is done, who you are is done because everybody has been a kid. So my shot has been delivered in that couple words." Then you can just move on. You don't explain the geography or your emotional state as a kid. So it is something really important to think about.

Dayna Gowan:

I think that's where a lot of new speakers get caught up, at least in Toastmasters. I've seen a lot of people focusing too much on the details too. It's like you don't have to give every single detail. You just need to give the details that are important to the story too. Excellent. Excellent tips there.

Gabe Zichermann:

I actually have a follow-up question about that really, which is about this. You're describing a lot of elements of like writing and telling stories. Have you done any training or work? Have you written other stories? You seem very grounded in that school.

Jeremy Au:

Thank you for spotting that. Although I was not good speech giver as a kid, I loved reading books, write fantasy books, science fiction. One thing I was doing a lot, I was doing a lot of poetry actually during that time.

Gabe Zichermann:

Wow.

Jeremy Au:

And [inaudible 00:23:30] I was doing a little bit of debate in middle school. I think poetry is very much about boiling down to the exact emotion and always going to, at least in my style, really the smallest number of words to gift that picture and letting everybody else paint a picture in their own minds. That's an interesting dynamic where I've carried that. You can say heuristic, you can say training or you can say the bias, to be thoughtful about that.

Obviously, I am a big fan of Joseph Campbell's Hero a Thousand Faces. Dan Harmon has a eight-point story arc where he summarizes the work of that and that's why he has done a great job with, like I said, Community and HarmonQuest and Rick and Morty. I think the narrative arc really just does a lot of heavy lifting for more speeches.

It's not every speech, but it is true for a certain type of speech, which is about human story and narrative, which is also, I think the story that most people remember off the bat. I think it's a story that most people have when they introduce themselves for the first time. It's a sorry to keep a half when you are having drinks at 2:00 AM, sharing your true self. Finally, after five hours of randomness over dinner, and then you get to the heart of it, of who you are and why you are.

It's a story, I think that, we see a commencement speeches, whereas less about technical advice or so far, but really about what the future looks like from the wise and the old in that sense, to the new generation.

Gabe Zichermann:

That made me think of the pitches that they used to do on Mad Men. If you remember, it's actually part of the historical record about the origins of modern advertising at Madison Avenue, which was this shift away from talking about the features and benefits of a product and talking more about its emotional resonance or what the product meant to the person's personal journey. Which in my working gamification, has been a really big piece of that.

This like, how does this idea fit into who I am now and who I want to be in the future? Is that the core of this very compelling sales loop? I think that most of the time that whenever I'm doing a speech, pretty much of any kind, I am always thinking about what I'm selling. Sometimes maybe I'm a little bit salesy, but hopefully it doesn't always read that way.

Sometimes that sale is just me. I just want you to like me and my story and what I have to say. And other times it's like, there's my startup or my consulting practice or this book I'm writing or whatever. But in almost every single case, there's a way that you need to take whatever it is that you want to say and put it in the terms that the audience can really relate to.

Dayna Gowan:

Great point there. I want to bring it back to professional, you talked about how you sell and, giving pitches and stuff. Jeremy, I want to ask you, how has public speaking helped you and your career as an investor, but also as a co-founder, entrepreneur, how has public speaking helped you? You've got all the story background too, and then you've grown in your public speaking and how has it helped?

Jeremy Au:

I'll start with the founder story first. It is super essential because, I think the definition of founder is someone who is able to generate execution, progress results with a much limited number of resources. There's a big difference between the manager who is managing a certain number of resources for a certain goal. There's no expectation for that disproportionality of the result versus the input

But I founder is someone was able... And the magic of why we love the story to man versus man, man versus nature dynamic of the founder story is because they came up with this idea or it took a long while for the idea. But they were able to bring it to a light, and fruition that nobody else could really do. They were able to mash those other resources and a big part of it, and I think that's where I think movies do get it right, is I think the art of that conversation, where the founders, not necessarily making the big clean speeches, I would say that the movies do, but they're making pitches about saying, trust me, join my team. Trust me, buy my product. Trust me, support me in the business.

That's a crazy hot thing to do because most times it's thought to be around if you work at... Nothing get in here but, [inaudible 00:28:44], Oreo, stuff like that. It's very much like it's much more like keep buying my stuff and maybe buy more. That's a very different message.

I think founder, I remember just having to pitch lots of people. I remember the first time for my first company, which was a Social Enterprise, very much pitching at Cogent Consulting and was just a group of 20 folks that turned up for the first time. And I had emailed, I think hundreds of my friends, and so only 2020 showed up and have that 20 effectively, 80% of it just like, "No." After my speech, my pitch, right

Of the remaining 20%, the truth was only 80% signed up, but 80% of that did do anything really. It was just that remnant of a remnant that really said, "Hey, I actually believe in what you're doing." And we build something amazing out there that became a huge success for the social sector in Singapore.

I think for as a founder, as a result, I think the speech that you gave at the pitcher making it to close, it can be scary because you're like... It's not like the movies where you give a speech and 100 people of 100 are like yes. And they all get activated. I'm like-

Dayna Gowan:

[crosstalk 00:30:19] thinking.

Jeremy Au:

... I wish the speech was that powerful. And the movies make that very unrealistic. I think the true is the heart of the speech, but what's untrue is the result of the speech. But I think as you get older like, you know what, if only 20% cared about my speech and if 20% of my 20% actually took action, that's actually not too bad actually.

Dayna Gowan:

Well, it's better than zero.

Jeremy Au:

It's better than zero, and I think obviously as a speech crafter or as a speech maker, you're trying to expand that percentage. But I think that's something that you can't judge yourself on. It's like if you impacted 4% of the crowd deeply, that's actually a huge number, because most people at zero, to be honest.

I think as a founder, I think that's a huge part, and eventually of course, you go on to pitch VCs. I think a lot of people think about that from a fundraising perspective. But I think that's really the tail end of the speech, really, of speech making process. Then I'm happy to talk about the VC side as well if you want.

Dayna Gowan:

Yeah, I want to ask you too, from the VC side and really judging pitches now. You've been on both sides where you've had to give pitches and then you listened to them. What are you looking for when you hear a pitch? Any advice that you can give to entrepreneurs and startup founders to help their pitch when they're pitching to DCs?

Jeremy Au:

Yeah. It's interesting to switch to the other side of the table, because then it also helps refresh your own self-awareness and self evaluation of yourself as a founder making that pitch. The biggest piece of advice I can give to founders is that they are very much around giving that mini speech around five minutes or 30 minutes or one hour, around a solution. They're not giving a speech about the problem and in not giving a speech about themselves.

That's really the heart of it, which is like, what is the problem? There are so many times I've been in a pitch and I'm really filling in the blanks for them, because I'm just saying, hold up, before we go into the solution, why is this a problem? I think there're two levels to that question. The first question is, how deep a problem is it really? Is this, as I say, a pain killer or a vitamin?

That heart of the issue is like factually, how painful problem is it and for whom is it really a painful problem? Because it could be a very small problem for lots of people, but actually if our small group of people, it's a huge problem. The second part is also the actual communication of that. I'm very much having that dual conversation with myself and with the founder, which is at one level, thinking about the problem dynamic, how deep a problem is this actually, versus how effectively at communicating it.

Those are not necessarily the same. I think there are lots of people who are pitching very small problems but they're communicating it very well so it feels like a big problem. Conversely, there's a lot of people who are taking huge problems but communicating it very poorly, and so it doesn't feel like the heart of it. The urgency of the case, what changes in there for why the product needs to enter from stage right.

Conversely, they also don't give that speech about themselves. They launch the solution because they understand it's time compression, et cetera, or they know that there's not a lot of time. A voice, the heart of the issue, which is at the end of the day, if you are a founder, you are going to be creating a tremendous amount of value.

What I mean by that is, even if you're walking in front of a VC in the early stages, raising $5 million or $10 million, the truth is if you are going to be successful, you have only created 1% of the value of the company, maybe even less. 99% or 99.999% of the company has not yet been built. The only way that's going to be built is by the founder. It's not the VC, it's not the employees, it's not a stakeholders, it's not a press, it's not the big problem, the case for change, it's going to be the founder.

If the founder can clearly articulate why they care about a problem and why they are the best fit for the problem, and because it comes from a deep human part of them, then you can trust that they are going to build out that 99.99% regardless. I think that's what I think is a big pot of the dynamic versus other folks.

Dayna Gowan:

Wow, that's excellent. Gabe, anything to add to that? Do you agree, or do you have other things that you usually look for?

Gabe Zichermann:

Yeah. I think one of the funny things, you probably have your take on this too, Jeremy, which is, we have all these stereotypes of what a founder is supposed to be like when they get up on stage and everybody's been to some tech crunch event or something. And you've seen usually white guys get up there and give their douchy pitch.

I have seen, in my practice working with startups, I've seen the entire gamut of people not understanding that a room full of investors, they don't expect you to be Mark Zuckerberg. They understand that he is his own person and you don't have to be the same. The fact that you see this recurring pattern among really successful entrepreneurs doesn't mean that you have to be anything less than the person that you are.

I personally think that one of the things that trips up a lot of people is people with accents often get really uncomfortable, because they think that in order to raise that capital, they have to say every word perfectly. If they don't say every word perfectly, they're not going to be able to raise the capital. It's like, no, usually the reason why an investor passes on you is not because you didn't say every word properly in your speech. It's because you didn't think through what your customer acquisition funnel was going to be.

When they asked you the first, very simple question about your startup, the whole thing falls apart. Then the speech is like an artifice and the substance isn't connected to the speech. And that's a very risky place to be.

Jeremy Au:

I agree with that. At the end of the day, I always tell people, if you build a great business, the investors are going to come. Because investors love, love, love, love businesses and founders who have a great business and bad communicators at one level. Because if they're bad communicators, that probably means that they're not very good at fundraising capital, and so investors can have the opportunity to be first.

They can see past poor communication skills or whatever it is, and be the first in line to say, this is a great business to come into. You've got to build that great business first into substance [inaudible 00:37:47]. I think in converse, investors are very concerned about companies that are not great businesses, but a great communicator, and so they're very much saying, am I going to have a false positive? Am I going to make the wrong investment into someone that's not going to return the capital? That's the transactional approach.

Why have and will my peer founders and my question to him is very much saying, how do we build the business that is a no brainer? That has the fundamentals and a substance, that is going to make a great, in this case, speech, or presentation of pitch? Regardless of how you say it. Because when you have that core, it not only gives you obviously the numbers and the data, and therefore the anecdotes. But it's also going to give you the confidence and a conviction to be able to say whatever you want to say confidently, and it gives you the space and time to learn how to fundraise and give that speech. So many good things happen when you have a strong business.

Whereas I think there is a tendency which has been to business is not as strong as we want it to be, then we focus on index and speeches and the story. Then it, sometimes it works, but sometimes it doesn't work, because they get to time compress across too many things. I think that's a thing that we go into quite a bit.

Obviously, we run the podcast at BRAVE at wwwd.jeremyau.com. We talked a lot about that as well, which is what is that level of bravery that's not arrogance but not cowardice. What's that right level of confidence. That confidence can only come about when you also have built a strong business at a core of it as well. That's how I think about it.

Dayna Gowan:

That's so interesting, because I know nothing about pitches. That's Gabe's thing and I'm learning as I go. Remember, I'm the Robin superhero here. I just love the idea that you don't have to be a great storyteller, but if you have the right business and the right model to back it up, then your business will sell eventually. Of course, if you have both the right business and the good communication skills, you might be able to sell it quicker to investors.

Gabe Zichermann:

There is a certain amount of investor pattern matching, which shouldn't be dismissed. You know what I know, I sounded a little bit like, you don't need to worry about if you don't fit the white male stereotype, and that's not right either. I think the point is, if you're a female founder of color, you don't need to go up on stage and try to be like the white dudes from Stanford that are trying to raise money.

You need to be you. The business and your presentation need to be authentic and excellent on their own rate. They need to stand on their own. Just like with any other kind of talk, it's the substance, the story and the substance come first, and everything else flows from that. Where people are mostly, when they study public speaking, they normally want to focus.

They think that their substance is fine. I can't tell you how many times somebody has come to me. I've worked with a lot of entrepreneurs and they've come and they've said, "I need help because I'm going to do a pitch competition, and I need your help getting ready for this pitch competition. I say a lot of filler words and I need to stop doing that."

And I'm like, "Okay, give me your talk." So they give me their pitch and I'm like, "Your pitch sucks. We're not going to get to your speaking style yet, because this pitch is broken." In fact, the other day, on related topic, I was chatting with a friend of mine who's a real estate agent, quite a successful real estate agent, and he started doing these videos online, thought leadership videos for people interested in real estate.

He was like, "Can you give me some feedback on my videos?" I've watched them and actually Dayna, we should really have him come on one of the sessions. I watched it and I said to him, I was like, and I really like him. He's a dear friend. And I'm like, "I really like the speech overall, but it doesn't sound like you. This doesn't seem like you." And he was like, "Yeah, I'm actually working with a template that somebody sent me." I was like, "Okay, so you are reading someone else's words."

The important thing to remember which people always forget about, writing and reading words in a phenomenal way. There are very, very few people who can write words that sound like natural speech. Those people typically are at the top of their craft and they are Dan Harmon at Au. Writing right at the top of their craft. This is very natural thing. Why would you expect yourself to have that skillset? Like if you're trying to write content that's sounds natural, but not in your own voice.

Then the other side of that coin is that the speaker, the actor, it takes a lifetime of practice to be able to read someone's words in a way that makes it sound natural. That's not a skill that everybody possesses and I wouldn't recommend most startup founders go off and take acting classes for six years before getting up and doing their pitches.

Dayna Gowan:

Yeah, that would be tough.

Gabe Zichermann:

The answer to that is authenticity, anyway.

Dayna Gowan:

That goes back to what you were saying, Jeremy, to summarize too, what you look for is one, the problem and not having to answer that question in your head, but having them explain what the problem is and who this affects and what the solution is. But also, how much they care about it. Because like you said, they're the founder. They're going to be the passionate one. The investor just giving the money, not just giving, the investor's giving money but the founder's got to carry it on their back.

Dayna Gowan:

I want to now ask you, Jeremy, because we talked about maybe founders, entrepreneurs with maybe poor communication skills, they might get nervous, they might say a lot of filler words like you were saying, Gabe. Jeremy, I want to ask you, how do you handle your speeches and your nerves? Do you have any methods for how you get ready for your speeches?

Jeremy Au:

I feel like I'm going to say a lot of generic stuff in Google, because that's what I did as a kid. I remember buying the dummies guide to speeches and that's where I learned a lot as a kid. I think there's so much for everybody. I think a bunch of basic bullet points, this time in no particular order, but right bullet points, not full speeches, practice in front of a mirror is a good one. I would say actually, practice in front of your friends and family is actually a good one as well, to get some feedback. Of course that's when your wife starts hitting you and say, stop practicing in front of me and asking me whether this is good or not. You practice with a lot of folks.

Templates are helpful because they give you a scaffold for you to at least get something out and you can always improve. Lastly I think, give the same speech over and over again. I just see it as one of the funny parts about adding business versus politicians or whatever it is. But for a lot of business meetings, especially the pitches [inaudible 00:45:57] pitches, pitching 100 VCs, you're doing the same pitch 100 times, so that's going to be plenty of practice. The joke voice has been, queue up the people you probably don't want to get money from upfront.

Gabe Zichermann:

That's right. That is such good advice. That is, how many times have I seen a founder, I'm sure you have too, who starts with Andreessen Horowitz?

Jeremy Au:

Yeah, and then they lock up.

Gabe Zichermann:

That's a terrible place to start. Your first speech should not be on the Ted main stage and your first pitch should not be to a top tier Santo Road VC.

Jeremy Au:

I can imagine all the sad VCs who are actually just practice VCs. So sad, like a stop the Pokemon anyway.

Gabe Zichermann:

It's a good piece of advice, for sure.

Dayna Gowan:

Yes. That relates to our mantra, my ever going mantra, practice, practice, practice. We probably bring that up every single podcast, but it is what you do and it's come up several times. You just have to keep practicing and you don't want to read from it because that takes away from your authenticity. Just be yourself and know that you've practiced and you know your material and trust that you know your material, and that you're not going to have a blackout moment like Jeremy had in middle school where you curse on the microphone. If you do black out, then you just don't curse.

Gabe Zichermann:

Can I, tie that back to the... I know we're going to circle back to improv here as we get closer to wrapping up. Can I just tie back what you just said? One of the things about improv is you don't practice a specific sketch very much.

Dayna Gowan:

No, you don't. It's all made up on the spot.

Gabe Zichermann:

So how does that factor in in your guys' thought process about being a better communicator, if on one hand we want to give this speech 1,000 times upfront, but then on the other hand, we want it to be more improvisational.

Dayna Gowan:

Well, I think that's why I like improv so much is because you don't have to practice. You practice the craft and you practice the game and using it and I still have to learn that, but there is literally no prep. You just go into it and trust that you know the skills to carry you forward in a scene. There is a part of me that just loves the improv mindset. That no prep work, just go in there, trust your skills. Jeremy, what about you?

Jeremy Au:

Improvisation is a Jason and overlaps with speech, and does a lot of value in both ways and also is important to mark out the distinction. I think improvisation is very much about what's the funny and yet what is the real in the scene. I think humor is the end goal of that improv, and you're thinking about the audience.

It's the same skills, the same tools, but a very different goal. Versus speeches, they are not always meant to be funny. They could be funny bits in it. But if you think about it, most speeches are not meant to be funny. Does this interesting trend, obviously you where every good politician, or every good inspirational public speaker has humor in it to humanize and to break positing the walls of an irrational thought, and just get to a true story.

Conversely, I've been listening to a lot of autobiographies or comedians, and they still use that humor to highlight and talk about how funny say, some positive life is, because I think every person has that [inaudible 00:49:59] in their life at some point. Which is the inner life a stranger infection sometimes. And they do great. Ali Wong, great autobiography. I think really I think thinking about improvisation is that really saying, what are we trying to aim for in this conversation? And I think that's a big part of it.

Dayna Gowan:

And have you ever tried stand up? Have done any standup comedy?

Jeremy Au:

I did stand up once at Comedy Cellar-

Dayna Gowan:

Nice.

Jeremy Au:

... after a lot of practice, and I did it just to tell myself whether I could do it. And I realized that I love being on stage for those five minutes and having a tremendous amount of laughter. I think in many ways more than you would at improv. I just didn't like the practice of that craft, because the practice of stand-up is actually you're writing a lot of bits. Write small little jokes and then practicing and talking to yourself, is a very introverted amount of practice.

These stand up comedians, they look like extroverts because they're on a stage, but actually to be successful, you're actually most of the introverts.

Dayna Gowan:

You have to be an observer [crosstalk 00:51:10].

Jeremy Au:

Observer, exactly. Whereas is interesting for improv is, like you said, in some ways the opposite in a sense that you're doing a improv show for 30 minutes, not five minutes, which is the average show, and the practices of other people. What I realized from that discovery was that even do I love standup in terms of... And I'm comfortable with it and people like it and want me to do more of it, the practice of it is not my style of practice.

I think that's a self observation and awareness that most public speakers are going to discover about themselves, which is like, that set of speeches that I am comfortable giving because I'm comfortable in that topic. I'm comfortable with that audience, I'm comfortable with my own set of relevance, that issue, and finding that sweet spot and be comfortable with that sweet spot is important for lots of folks.

Gabe Zichermann:

This is so insightful, Jeremy, honestly. I couldn't agree with you more. I will say one thing that I often recommend people do is stand up. I don't usually recommend that the people I train go do stand up classes. But I do recommend that they watch stand-ups and I want them to watch it for a specific thing, which I've observed. You guys can tell me what you think.

One of the characteristics of the best stand-ups is that they think they are funny. And it's transmitted in their body language and tone and the way they deliver a joke, even if they've worked that joke 1,000 times before getting up on stage, they still manage to make it seem funny because they think they are funn

Similarly for a speaker, you have to like the speech you're giving. You have to like yourself on stage, so that every time you give that speech, hopefully 1,000 times and hopefully paid every single time. Every time you give that speech, the audience is feeling how much you like being there and you like doing that.

Dayna Gowan:

I love that. That's the authenticity piece of it and the passion. That leads me, Jeremy, to one last question and this is an improv question, meaning I'm putting you on the spot and making you think off the cuff, testing your improv skills here. That question is, in your bio, you mentioned that you are a public speaker and panelist. You talk a lot about entrepreneurship, leadership and community engagement. Those are your key topics that you love talking about. But if you could give a speech or talk about any topic at all, what would you want to talk about? What would you use your stage and your platform to talk about?

Jeremy Au:

Wow, this is definitely a fun one. The one that jumps out to my head immediately was the science fiction and a future. Actually moving past the, call it Western, or the prototypical science fiction that we see over the past years, which I still tremendously love, Ender's Game, Isaac Asimov, so many great folks, Hyperion, which all have that same dynamic, which are all from the same type of author.

I think there's this new way of tremendous science-fiction by female and Asian authors that I've been really reading a lot on. Both as a group of authors, like Lucy saying, from the three body problem and wondering of all the way to end lucky with Empire series, where she has an entire story where the protagonist has no gender pronouns. And obviously a lot of other staff that she does a tremendous job and she won multiple wars, The Hugo, The Galaxy, Nebula. An amazing author.

One interesting thing is that, I think watching new people have the space to publish science fiction with their very different culture upbringing, really creates a lot of a different future. They are all talking about the same universal emotions about humans, which is technology can be version 8.7, and humans are still version 0.1 alpha.

What do we as... These are reptilian and crocodile brains that we have, who are we in the context as the future accelerates? I love that because it's such a diverse set of conversations that we never, had because it was impossible to access them without the internet for discovery. It's also a tremendous amount of energy because I think you have it really paints a very different future than has been painted before.

I think the reason why I care is because my love of science fiction is also the reason why I'm in technology, why I happened to found that creating the future, and why I'm now a venture capitalist investing in founders who want create a future. Is because we want to create a science fiction. It is not a dystopian Blade Runner corporate this hierarchy that is in every movie that I still love, like Blade Runner [inaudible 00:56:33].

It is true for one slice of the mine, but comes from one set of assumptions about a future. I think there is a more optimistic, there's a more human one and I think science fiction can pave the way for it. I think we just have to have that diversity on one hand, but also the openness to see new ones.

Dayna Gowan:

Well Jeremy, that is not in your list of topics that you usually talk about, but I think you can and you've sold us on it, so-

Gabe Zichermann:

Totally.

Dayna Gowan:

... go out and use that topic now. In your speeches, that was awesome.

Gabe Zichermann:

Speaking of awesome things about you, Jeremy, will you tell everybody as we flow out, will you tell everybody how they can follow you or find out more about what you do?

Jeremy Au:

Yeah. Go to www.jeremyau, that's Jeremy, as you know, and A-U, as my last name .com. There you will find at one level, the BRAVE Podcast where I myself am podcasting and hearing the stories of, as we say, Southeast Asian Tech leaders. Which is a group that has not been well-represented in terms of this media awareness because of the geography, really.

But there's a tremendous amount of energy, creativity and it's still the same human story that has been relevant for so many people in Southeast Asia, but also the diaspora and for people who want to see what emerging markets and new sources of energy can come from. I also provide and write resource guides and other support materials and some personal blogs directed at founders and VCs which are available to everybody there. Just follow me there and of course, there, you can find my social media links like LinkedIn and Twitter and all the other good stuff.

Dayna Gowan:

Well, and I'll just add, Jeremy, you're an excellent listener and interviewer on your podcast, really using those improv skills to the fullest there. Congratulations on an awesome podcast and lots of experience. Thank you so much for sharing with us today.

Gabe Zichermann:

Yes, thank you for coming.

Dayna Gowan:

Such great advice, such great experience that you have, and I love that you're using all your experience to then connect with other people and get their stories told. Awesome work.

Gabe Zichermann:

Thank you. To wrap up, everybody, remembered to check out The A-Ha! Method course and podcast and all the information about the Speakers Alliance, which you can find at speakersalliance.org, and be sure to follow us on social media so you can be kept up to date on our latest podcast episodes. Subscribe to this podcast and come see us sometime at a live session, taking place over Zoom somewhere near you. I've been your host, Gabe Zichermann.

Dayna Gowan:

And I'm Dayna Gowan.

Gabe Zichermann:

Thank you. See you next time.

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