Allison Shapira is a public speaking consultant. She coaches people from all industries and all sectors become stronger, more effective public speakers. Visit her online at: http://www.allisonshapira.com!
What inspired you to start your own business?
I started my own business by accident. I had always liked public speaking and had joined a local Toastmasters club to improve. After a few years in the club, I realized how much I could help others with their public speaking skills. One day, an executive assistant called me to ask if Toastmasters could come to her boss’ office to help him with an upcoming speech. When I explained that Toastmasters was about a learning process, not 1-1 consultations, she asked if I knew anyone else who could help her boss. I thought about it for a minute and then replied “Well, for $50/hour, I could help your boss.” As I worked with this very senior businessman who was twice my age, I realized how much I could help him.
Have you met any celebrities or really interesting people in your business?
When I was applying for a job at Harvard University, I interviewed with David Gergen, who runs the Center for Public Leadership and is also a senior political analyst for CNN. Although he was interviewing me for an administrative role, he happened to see the public speaking work on my resume and he said, “I am teaching a course in public speaking in the spring, and I’ve been looking for someone to help me teach it. Would you be interested?” Teaching with someone who has been an advisor to 4 US presidents was an outstanding learning opportunity. The lesson of this story is: you never know where unique opportunities will come from.
What was your proudest moment?
A few months ago, Harvard was planning its first-ever conference to train young Latino undergraduate students from around the country who showed leadership potential. Many of these students were first-generation Americans whose parents had never gone to college – a few students had never even been on an airplane. Harvard invited me to teach public speaking to these students; in fact, it was the very first course they took when they arrived, which gave me a chance to shape their entire experience at Harvard. Afterwards, many students wrote me personal, hand-written “thank you” notes about how much they learned from my class. It was an incredible experience to touch the lives of these up-and-coming leaders.
What is the best lesson you could give a young woman who wants to start her own business?
Start your own business slowly, preferably while you already work somewhere else. It takes a long time to market yourself and build relationships, so you want to have another, more stable source of income in the meantime. It also lets you test the waters: is this really what you want to do? If not, you can easily move on to something else. Another lesson I would give young women is: find someone else who is doing what you want to do and ask for an informational meeting. Many people will be happy to mentor young professionals and they are a valuable source of knowledge and experience.
What do you do or say when you feel like giving up?
You sometimes feel stressed out when you run your own business, because you’re the one who has to make all the decisions. When I feel overwhelmed, I usually take a deep breath, sit down by myself, and just let my head wander. If I have time, I get a good night’s sleep. The next morning, after a good cup of coffee, I’m ready for anything. Another lesson I’ve learned is that you’re never really alone. You always have a network of colleagues, friends, and family-members who are willing to listen and give you advice. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you, but someone else needs to show it to you.