Haris Ahmed Chicago: Why Startup Founders Need to Learn Public Speaking
Haris Ahmed, a Chicago management consultant, heads an executive consulting company that does public relations for some of Chicagoland’s largest businesses. Public speaking is a primary advocacy for Haris Ahmed, and Chicago, which he has called home for more than twenty years, has had a tradition of hosting many good public speakers from the fields of business and politics. While the city is more associated with large companies, it is now attracting some fast-rising startups, and Haris Ahmed would like Chicago entrepreneurs to develop their public speaking skills.
The city of Chicago, with its numerous universities and research institutions, is fast turning into the Midwest’s version of Silicon Valley. In 2015, Chicago only trailed the New York metropolitan area in Inc. magazine’s Top Cities for Fast-Growing Companies, with as many as 104 privately held companies in the list, and a large number of those companies belong to the technology sector. The city is also the 5th largest tech market in the country, and from 2011 to 2015, tech jobs in the city increased by around 40,000. For Haris Ahmed, Chicago lies in a strategic location, one that lies at the crossroads of the East, West, and North, making it the ideal hub not just for business, but also for thought leadership.
However, not all tech entrepreneurs are naturally gifted with charisma. Studies show that many graduates of STEM majors have difficulty articulating their thoughts to the public. Haris Ahmed thinks Chicago schools should do a better job at developing their students’ soft skills, including communication skills. This should be done not just at the university level; the seed should be planted as early as childhood, when a person’s sense of confidence starts to take shape.
In an age of viral videos and TED talks, ideas travel faster than they used to. A viral TED video could lead to opportunities for expansion and more recognition for one’s business, especially if the idea behind the talk is novel and presented in a way that makes people want to act. “Awesome” doesn’t cut it anymore, says Haris Ahmed; Chicago audiences are sophisticated and can tell if an idea is something new or rehashed, or if it will work in real life.
Public speaking is not just useful for TED talks. Haris Ahmed knows Chicago investors, and they tend to be more conservative than their counterparts on the West Coast. Thus, whenever a startup needs additional funding, they want to talk to the founder or CEO directly. They want to invest not just in an idea, but also its execution; if a CEO knows how to present a concept well, investors will be more confident about their money being put to good use.
Public speaking skills can also be useful when someone appears on TV, says Haris Ahmed. Chicago is one of the largest media markets in the continent, and an appearance on either a business show or a morning show can make or break a company’s chances of expanding.
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