Michelle Mone on the Art of Public Speaking

michelle mone

Michelle Mone: “I still get very nervous speaking. Take the businesswoman away and I’m actually quite a shy person.”

Ultimo founder is in demand from the burgeoning industry of sharing inspiration en masse.

“I threw up before speaking alongside Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev. That said, I only stopped throwing up about a year ago.” This may not be the best of recommendations for public speaking and yet doing that around the world has proved to be something of a second (or third or fourth) career for Mone. Indeed, it has made her the UK’s leading female public speaker.

Mone is better known as founder of Ultimo, a British lingerie company that took on an intensely competitive industry dominated by a few global players, reinvented the bra by building gel boosters into the structure and created something of a cult following that earned Mone somewhere in the region of £40 million.

But her story is more arresting than that: it’s a classic rags-to-riches tale of the Glaswegian daughter of troubled parents hiring kids on her streets to monopolise the local paper rounds — she was 10 at the time — before, in her 20s, at a smart function and finding her own bra uncomfortable and unflattering, having a lightbulb moment.

Over the last two decades the 45 year old has created multiple brands and, thanks also to her disarmingly honest autobiography, found herself in demand from the burgeoning industry of sharing inspiration en masse.

“I still get very nervous speaking. Take the businesswoman away and I’m actually quite a shy person,” says Mone. “But I love getting the chance to pass on insights to people who really want it. Hopefully they come in with big issues and leave with smaller ones because they have more confidence to get off their backsides and make the business they want.”

Speaking is something Mone clearly has a talent for, notwithstanding her home-town’s famed love of chatter. At the lectern she speaks for a hour or more at a time, without using notes. “I dropped them once and realised it was a sink-or-swim moment and just carried on without them and it all felt more honest,” she explains. The secret, Mone adds, is to watch your audience’s reaction and to speak from the heart. “Don’t go on and on. Tell anecdotes but don’t try to be a comedian. And don’t give them any bullshit. You’re just a person with some ideas just being listened to by other people, and they need to sense that.”

It’s an approach that Mone is parlaying into a business launching in September: a webinar mentoring service called Connect2Michelle, aimed at new businesspeople but perhaps also for people who are having trouble in their lives. She says: “I’ve had plenty of those: binge eating, drinking. I’d wake up and have McDonald’s for breakfast every day. Writing my autobiography was a kind of therapy. It took that to realise business had sucked the life out of me. Business was always number one, rather than me. I’ve flipped that around now but it wasn’t easy. I think a lot of entrepreneurs have that experience. It’s a very lonely business.”

Her experiences will no doubt give her more talking points for future public speaking engagements. Having done the worst of those in 2015, when she was appointed to the British parliament’s House of Lords as one of then prime minster David Cameron’s business ‘tsars’, Mone feels she’s ready for anything. “That’s the most terrifying thing I’ve done,” she says. “I’d rather speak in front of 4,000 businesspeople than 200 lords and ladies. It’s so formal. There’s the correct speech you have to use, and they’re all ready to tell you when you’re wrong. I’m in it for life so at least there’s no rush to give too many speeches there now. It’s taking me out of my comfort zone, but that’s great.”

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