We talked to Oksana Krykun, Olha Muzychenko, and Alyona Skyrta about Speak2me about public speaking and pitch trainers. The following is what they had to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Oksana Krykun: Hopefully, right now, everyone is safe and self-isolated. Interesting times, when you are doing the COVID checkups more frequently than visits to the dentists. I have spent a huge part of the income on those tests.
Olya Muzychenko: This year, we were lucky to not only survive the pandemic with iron health but also to get to know ourselves much better. Mental and physical health remains our team’s big priority.
Alyona Skyrta: Fortunately, everyone is fine.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Speak2me.
Oksana Krykun: My story with Speak2me started in 2015 when I was attending a Ukrainian conference. I was sitting at the back of the room, trying to listen to a headline speaker with other 800 people. Then I noticed that people started leaving the room, and the reason was that the speaker was so boring that the listeners did not want to waste their time. A big insight came to my mind – people are spending money and time to listen to speeches they don’t enjoy. On the other side, there is a speaker who has this boring speech and is wasting everyone’s time. That was the moment I took mobile and created a chat (which is still called “speaker improvement” with Alyona and Olya (as we were preparing speakers for TEDx conferences before). This chat transformed into a life project for the last 5 years, which helped 100+ people create powerful speeches.
Regarding my background, it is a mix of different skills and areas. I am working now as a Director of the Product Management Office in an IT company. I have a background in finance, marketing, business analysis and project management. With such a background, I understood the essence of every part of product work. For 7+ years, I have been working either as a co-organizer or a volunteer of Ukrainian TEDx conferences. In addition, I lead as an organizer of the Product Track on the biggest Eastern conference in IT – IT Arena. This background helps me bring extra valuable skills to the team, as the presentation preparation has a lot to do with product management. Each presentation is a product itself – with its audience research and development, with the “features” – content to add to the presentation, goals and final metrics. Sounds a bit complicated, but adds the structure to effective preparation methodology, which helps at the end to win the listener’s hearts.
Olya Muzychenko: I always had an entrepreneurial spirit in me, but I never thought my next company will be connected with public speaking. Speak2me was born out of a clear problem of having too many boring speeches in the world, which drives our team up to date.
My career has given me a mix of business development, production, sales, product management and marketing skills. Although I changed multiple roles, they all had one thing in common: constantly presenting, delivering ideas to various audiences. Thus, with Speak2me, it has always been a win-win case. I learnt a lot about public speaking to grow my company’s expertise, which also greatly helped me in my other projects.
Alyona Skyrta: I used to be a journalist and had experience in storytelling. We organized a big TEDx conference. Our area of responsibility was speech preparation. After that, I was thinking: “What’s next?” The answer was not so obvious. One day, our speaker’s friend at the TEDx conference asked for help with speech preparation and paid us for that. It was the moment when I first thought that it could be our business. We were friends with Oksana and Olya, together we prepared speakers for TEDx events and decided to do agency from Facebook chat “Speech preparation” 🙂 Our goal remains the same. We want to help people tell their stories.
We have been working together for five years. During this time, I switched to entrepreneurship, and now I work as a partner in an organization where we popularize science and connect it with business. And I’m happy that now we have more clients from science-driven startups.
Speak2me team is about best speech preparation, permanent development and also about supporting your partners.
How does Speak2me innovate?
Oksana Krykun: I think our type of innovation is the “innovation at the intersection” – we take the best of our backgrounds: business development, product management and marketing, science and journalism – and mix those ingredients together in a speech preparation methodology (of course, combining that background and experience with the world best-known techniques for the speech preparation). I believe (and I see) that this makes us very effective communication experts who help clients bring their ideas to the public in a fresh and in-point way.
The other thing is that we have been working remotely online since we started the company. It helps us understand all the struggles people might have when presenting online. It is our secret weapon that became obvious over COVID. And last but not least – we are flexible and fast-moving. This is not about innovation but about the attitude, and it helps us adopt the best (often innovative ideas) into the real world and quickly.
Olya Muzychenko: For me, innovation is about observing. When it comes to public speaking, observing how the audience’s needs change through time is a key source for ideas. As a successful public speaker, you need to make sure you are using all possible tools to keep the audience engaged. Adjusting to the online world after COVID using new software, techniques and focuses is a good example of an innovative approach based on new behavioral patterns.
Alyona Skyrta: In COVID times, there are suddenly no public speaking offline events. But people continued sharing their stories, and we continued helping them do that better. However, now all talks are held online. There is a stereotype that people normally don’t enjoy online talks. I would rather say that they don’t like bad online talks. Inspiring and well-prepared talk, where the audience can share thoughts, receive feedback, where the audience could be in different countries, can really raise the spirit of a speaker and listeners.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Oksana Krykun: we are working online for the last 5 years (since starting the company), so in terms of work, COVID did not change much. What is hard is to have other spheres of life to be online, and there is “too much” of online – we would love to have offline workshops and meetings – but now it is impossible. So we are trying to make the best out of the online world.
Olya Muzychenko: 2020 brought a confident universal understanding that education should not be tied to a physical location; everything can be done online. It really helped our team to stop fighting with windmills, as we were virtual and global in our core.
On the top, the reduction of networking in online events focused on content quality even bigger. Today people are coming to online events only if the content is worth it. They also get distracted easier. Altogether, we forecast it to bring a bigger demand in public speaking preparation.
Alyona Skyrta: We are very flexible in our work. We have always been working online with the team and our clients and continued doing so in 2020. What changed is we started being more attentive to others, sharing insights more often. Being sincerely supportive helps in this unusual time.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Oksana Krykun: In the book “Art of not giving a f*ck,” the author talks a lot about the problems. That the whole life is about the problems and challenges, and you need to solve those. That is probably the biggest lesson I learned in 2020 – there will always be shifts. You need to understand, proactively respond to the challenges those shifts impose on you, your work and surrounding. Thus, the biggest lesson I learned – you need to be flexible in your life and professional work – and react quickly to new circumstances. If the world is online – you need to understand how to work efficiently in this online world – from the presentations to self-organization.
Olya Muzychenko: It’s not the question of whether the next crisis will come; it’s the question of when. Thus, the only way to walk out of it with your head up is to look at the turbulence with curiosity and use it as much as possible.
When the global pandemic hit in March, all events and presentations were frozen for a few months until they transitioned to an online world. We used this quiet time to work on tasks that we never had time for, like new branding. We tried to stay positive and affect things that we can control in the most opportunistic way.
Alyona Skyrta: I agree with my partners that the problem could be taken as a challenge. With this approach, it’s more interesting to cope with everything. My key insight is how wonderful and supportive people are.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Speak2me in the future?
Oksana Krykun: My 2020 was all about energy management. I believe that energy is the basis for everything. You need to be “resourceful”. I started to meditate a bit, but the biggest part of this is self-care. Olya once said that you need to treat yourself as a best friend, which helped me a lot and the support from my friends and co-founders – Olya and Alyona.
How should I project myself and a company in the future? Definitely, as better professionals in what we do and with international exposure to the projects and our clients – we plan to be even more global – work with the Eastern part of the world more, work with innovators and change-makers. I am super excited about the future!
Olya Muzychenko: We try to be empathetic to each other and ask personal interest questions. The company is 5 years old now, and we are certainly not in the same state as when we started. It’s important to be sensitive about the life stages we are going through while focusing on goals being aligned with the mutual denominator.
Alyona Skyrta: Before pandemic hit the world, I used to go to the office. It was quite difficult to have the same energy when you meet offline people, and you meet everyone online. That’s why I started a few habits: meditation, writing a gratitude diary, freewriting, reading every day for 20 minutes, and doing 15 minutes of exercises every day. I started to love walking and walked every morning before the day began.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Oksana Krykun: of course, there are direct and indirect competitors. For example, our competitor can be the client’s willingness to prepare themselves on their own. However, if to talk about the more traditional competition, this is definitely: Nancy Duarte – as she is the top in the presentation preparation in the world for the audience we strive to work with. Also, there are great online-courses done by a number of universities available on the market…However, we don’t think there is direct competition in terms of the service we provide.
Olya Muzychenko: We try to bring additional expertise to public speaking. Each of us has our own projects running outside of Speak2me, which helps us bring additional perspective and context when working with startups, innovative companies, product managers, etc. It differentiates us greatly from pure public speaking training companies.
Alyona Skyrta: We are doing our best in working with our clients and expanding our network. We do it with a wide heart and always improve our skills, I suppose, that’s how we plan to stay in the game.
Your final thoughts?
Oksana Krykun: The world is changing. However, the world is ruled by ideas – small, big, great ones! If we don’t make those ideas happen – we don’t change something. The thing is that this idea needs to be heard, and it is hard work to make it sound. But I genuinely believe that the first step of working with the idea is articulating it and presenting it right.
Olya Muzychenko: Whatever the world is planning to surprise us with in the future, we should aim at taking the best out of it. With public speaking in 2020, it’s mobility, presenting in a comfort zone, more interactive features through the presentation, more live data from the audience. With a deep dive into untapped opportunities in this area, online presentations can be at least as efficient as offline.
Alyona Skyrta: 2021 should be interesting and challenging. My advice is to find a supportive environment, try to do your best, and not be rude to yourself if something goes wrong.
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