Friday, August 10, 2012

Famous Speech Friday: Debbi Fields on Building Your Small Business

First, a warning: this famous speech will make your mouth water. There's lots of talk about chunks of melting chocolate, the smell of cookies straight from the oven and how much butter is too much butter. If you're sold on having a snack after you've read it, then Debbi Fields has done her job.

Or one of her jobs, at least. The founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies sold her famous baking business to investors in 1993, but she's still the spokesperson for the company and one of the most recognizable women entrepreneurs in the world. Fields' story of how she took her personal recipe and turned it into a multibillion-dollar business is nearly as irresistible as her cookies. As a result, she is in high demand as a motivational speaker for business groups and philanthropies.

Fields has said that she recalled her company's motto, "Good Enough Never Is," when it came to starting her career in public speaking. "The idea of getting in front of a group, not as Mrs. Fields but really as Debbi, made my knees shake, and I'd get all dry-mouthed," she said. She joined Toastmasters International to help her feel more comfortable about speaking in front of large audiences, and received its prestigious Golden Gavel award in 2003.

This 2008 talk for the Council of Smaller Enterprises is Fields' signature motivational speech, in which she pairs scenes from her life with lessons learned for her business. It's a particularly good approach for this audience of small business owners, who understand how the personal and professional inevitably blend. "When I go to people's homes I'm still always toting my cookies that I made from scratch because it makes me happy," Fields says toward the end of the speech. "And so, for me, I'm just a believer that every day is grand opening day."

Just like the counter at a Mrs. Fields shop, we'll offer a few free samples here to whet your appetite for more.
  • Step away from the stove. Fields breezes right past the lectern after her introduction, and remains pacing the stage during her entire talk. She gestures constantly and generally has a high energy style of speaking that probably wouldn't fare as well if she had to stand in one spot. Not everyone likes or benefits from this sort of speaking style, but it's something to experiment with if you think it might work for you. And if this is your speaking style, be sure to check out your venues ahead of time and speak with organizers to see if they will have the space and equipment to accommodate this type of talk.
  • Don't be afraid to throw out a bad batch. For a speech about being an entrepreneur superstar, Fields sure does share a lot of her failures, often in painful and funny detail. I winced when she recalled how her husband's client tossed a dictionary at her after she said "orientated." But it's the kind of detail that makes the story of her success that much sweeter when it happens. And as a motivational technique, it provides a clear path--from days of aspiration to days of accomplishment--that her listeners can recognize.
  • Nutritious bites aren't a bad idea. A motivational speech doesn't have to be all about platitudes and slogans about passion and belief. Yes, there's plenty of those things in this speech, but Fields also offers practical advice for entrepreneurs on how to implement day-to-day financial goals and evaluate the return on foot traffic. (The company's pioneering use of software to streamline ordering, hiring and store operations is the subject of a Harvard Business Review case study.) Most motivational speakers can deliver the sweet nothings, but these specific insights make her a uniquely memorable and useful speaker for her audience.
Here's the full video of her 2008 talk. What else can you learn from Fields' famous speech?

(Editor's note: Regular contributor and freelance writer Becky Ham penned this entry in our Famous Speech Friday series.)