Careers: Standup founder provides tips to being a good speaker
Rabih El Khodr is the founder of Standup, spending his days coaching executives in the art of public speaking and teaching fledgling entrepreneurs how to improve their business-pitching skills. The 28-year-old Beirut resident was hired by the Turn8 incubator in Dubai to coach the inaugural intake of teams in the run-up to their demo day last month. He holds the belief that everyone is capable of becoming a good public speaker.
You have a bachelor’s degree in political studies and a master’s degree in development studies. How did you make the jump from politics to communication?
Life throws curveballs and my first official job after my masters was in PR for Nokia in Dubai. It was love at first sight. It was not something I studied per se but I guess I was always interested and my personality and character traits were a good fit with the industry.
If I were to put my finger on the underlying passion that I have, it’s that I would like to leave a mark and make a difference in people’s lives for the better. Our motto at Standup is “Bringing out the best communicator in you.” All people can become stellar communicators; it’s just a matter of figuring out who they are first – the techniques and tips come later.
You branched out on your own in 2012, starting Standup. Was setting up your own business always on the cards?
It was the inevitable leap of faith I had to take. Throughout my professional career, working for others, I had enjoyed my roles and was hopefully perceived as good at what I was doing. At the same time, I realised the value I could create. There was a eureka moment and I thought I might be onto something here.
You regularly work with entrepreneurs, training them in how to pitch to potential investors. What drew you to this area?
The specialisation started to grow organically; one of my first projects was delivering the pitching training for the social innovation camp organised by the MIT Enterprise forum for the pan-Arab region in Beirut. I have a natural affinity for other entrepreneurs. It’s really a win-win situation: if I help fellow entrepreneurs with my expertise, they could potentially help me with their expertise. So there is a very nice spiritual feel to Standup’s collaboration with entrepreneurs.
You coached the teams at last month’s Turn8 incubator. How did that come about?
I was delivering my business pitching training for ArabNet Riyadh. Kamal Hassan of Turn8 was a jury member. I was actually, like always, next to my trainees before they went onstage just to give them final tips. He witnessed that and so at the end of the conference he approached me and said that he was looking for a similar service for his entrepreneurs.
And are you now considering relocating to Dubai?
I have been bootstrapping my way so far and the trial has been successfully received. To move it to the next level I am considering setting up shop in Dubai. We are in talks to continue our collaboration with Turn8 so that’s pretty exciting.
What are your top tips for public speaking?
First and foremost: think positive. The number one enemy of any public speaker and of any business pitches is self doubt and any negative thinking. Number two, you need to know your content. Some people think that because they know their subject matter so well they can just go on stage and wing it. This could not be further from the truth. You need to be surgical in terms of researching properly and putting it together so you have a very pleasant flow. And most important is rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
You are a fan of the pitch Levi Roots made on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme to market his Reggae Reggae Sauce. Why?
In a nutshell, he was true to himself. He has the reggae attitude, he had a beautiful smile. He was a little clumsy and showed in the way he stumbles during his pitch but that didn’t matter because he goes on to get not only one entrepreneur but two business people interested. The way he started his pitch by taking everyone back by playing his guitar, his fresh disposition, his basic [explanation] of what the business is about … was a breath of fresh air that those businessmen in the jury crave. This is what I say in all of my training: do not be afraid of being bold because, at the end of the day, those people have their active listening off most of the time because everybody is saying things and doing things that they have seen and heard over and over again.