Public Speaking Can Open Many Doors


December 1, 2015

Photo: ©

Improving your public speaking skills could have a positive impact on your business. Photo: ©

In July, I spoke at the Northern Illinois Home Inspectors Association’s annual conference. It was great. About 40 attendees listened to me go on and on about carpenter ants, termites and powderpost beetles. They asked me to talk for about an hour. But in true Pete Schopen fashion, I blew past 60 minutes and 90 minutes, finishing up in just under two hours.

I love to talk. Get a couple of Long Island Iced Teas in me, and I really love to talk. Talking is why I went into sports broadcasting right out of college. Now that I’m a pest management professional (PMP), I can use my gift for gab to grow my business and my brand.

As background, my parents divorced when I was 7 years old, and during the next decade I attended nine different schools, bouncing 
from house to house and state to state. Thrown into that situation, 
I’d force my way into a conversation. Picture me as the love child of Denis Leary and Robin Williams — always yapping. I didn’t want to end up on the outside looking in; I wanted to be a part of whatever was happening.

My first public speaking event was my eighth-grade commencement speech. The powers that be asked me to write a speech about my years in junior high. It was a disaster. I talked too fast and mumbled my jokes. The parents applauded when I finished, but it was either pity claps or they were just glad I was done.

Either way, though, I was infected with the speaking bug. In high school, I got involved in anything that would allow me to speak — scholastic competitions, speech club, Spanish club, drama club, etc. I became so accomplished at public speaking that the 1986 prom sponsor (who also happened to be my speech coach) convinced the senior class to let me be the dinner entertainment for prom night. I performed my shtick and I didn’t get beat up, so it must have been OK. On the other hand, I also didn’t get any dates, so it couldn’t have been too great.

Soon enrolling at Elmhurst College, I made my way to its campus radio station, WRSE. I found my calling! I spent every spare moment talking on the radio. Once I graduated to “real” radio and I was getting paid to talk, I looked for any angle to be talking: sports play-by-play, newscasts, auctions, beauty pageants, radio remotes, band competitions, etc. 
A decade later, after nearly 20 years of public speaking, I left radio to start my own pest management company.

There are many areas where my public speaking background helps me in the pest management arena. For those of you who aren’t as comfortable speaking to small groups or large crowds, consider these tips:

⦁ Phone sales — Customers like talking on the phone with someone who’s nice and personable. It might sound crazy, but I make sure that I’m smiling while I’m on the phone. I firmly believe smiling changes the sound of your voice and makes you sound happier on the phone. More people want to do business with a happy, perky Pete vs. a grumpy Pete.

⦁ Face-to-Face — This is where I excel. I love person-to-person meetings with my clients. I genuinely like people. If I’m in someone’s living room, I’m going to tell funny stories but I’m also going to listen. People love talking about themselves. Whether it’s their job, kids, grandkids or neighbors, most individuals will open up if you’re honest and sincere. Don’t fake being nice; just be nice as a general way of living. Also, don’t look away while they’re talking. If you feel uneasy staring into somebody’s face, then find a spot on their forehead and focus on that while they’re talking.

⦁ Networking — If you want to be successful in any business, you have to network. It’s just a fact that the more people you meet, the more business you’ll generate. If you meet someone at a social event such as a Chamber of Commerce mixer, and the two of you hit it off, that person becomes a valuable referral tool for you. Other places where you can network are church and school functions. Networking groups such as LeTip International or Business Network International (BNI) are great resources for meeting other professionals and often offer classes and seminars specifically 
to sharpen 
your public speaking skills.

Chart: Schopen Pest Solutions⦁ Speaking engagements — 
Create speaking or networking opportunities for yourself. Approach business groups that would eventually need a PMP. Home inspectors, real estate agents, real estate lawyers, management companies and restaurant owners all are part of associations. Find out when these groups are meeting. Tell them you will speak for free at the monthly/quarterly/annual meeting if they will let you hand out business cards. At my local home inspectors convention, I handed out flyswatters with my logo on them.

⦁ Local industry groups — 
Join your state and local pest management associations. Meeting with other pest professionals will help you develop new strategies and open new avenues. Many Northern Illinois PMPs will refer me to new clients if their schedules are too busy. This can also help fill the gaps in your services. I don’t offer wildlife control, for example, but I have two wildlife professionals who send me tons of general pest work in exchange for wildlife leads.

Public speaking can be a terrifying adventure for many people. Acclaimed actor Sir Lawrence Olivier had a horrible problem with stage fright. But if you can overcome your fears, it can be a great way to meet many new contacts. Think about it: If you met just one person each day that likes you and/or your business, you could build a strong sales force of people who will refer you to their family and friends.

Schopen is owner and founder of Schopen Pest Solutions, McHenry, Ill. You can email him at or reach him via Twitter: @schopenpest; Instagram: @peteschopen; or Facebook: Schopen Pest Solutions, Inc.


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