Do your research. You receive the call you've been waiting for: your first request to speak to a local organization. Woo-hoo — you're on your way! What's the first thing you do? Take as much time as necessary to do some research about your audience. Learn about the group and its members. Who are they? What business(es) are they in? How familiar are they with your topic? Which aspects of your presentation will most resonate with them? Answering these questions as early as possible will help you develop a targeted presentation that your audience will remember, appreciate, and tell their friends about!
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Although you can almost never be too prepared for a presentation, there are two schools of thought on how you prepare. Some advocate memorizing the speech from start to finish and rehearsing until you can do it on autopilot. Others prefer to hone their opening and conclusion with precision, but simply commit to memory the main points of the rest of the talk. Though this may be a skill reserved for more accomplished or naturally gifted speakers, it can allow for a more relaxed, authentic presentation. Either way, you'll want to do your research and craft your presentation well in advance of the date of the event. Be sure to time yourself to see how long it takes for you to deliver the material and allow questions and interaction with the audience. One hallmark of a professional speaker is that they can start and end on time.
Video yourself. If you don't have a video camera, get one. And if you don't have a YouTube channel, create one. Then record yourself while practicing your speech and watch the film like athletes watch game tapes. Study your presentation for nervous tics, unduly long pauses, unnecessary or distracting hand gestures, repeated catch phrases, and any other bad habits you may not notice. Do your best to eliminate these before your actual presentation. Then, ask if you will be able to record the presentation in front of the group. Most grops are happy to oblige, but don't get upset if they say no for any reason. Then, (hire someone to) edit the video down to a 2- to 3-minute spot and post it on your YoutTube channel. Be sure to include your contact info.
Decide: To PowerPoint or NOT to PowerPoint? PowerPoint has become an ubitquitous tool for speakers, yet most of them do it VERY badly. If you're going to use a PowerPoint presentation to supplement your speech, make sure you follow one important rule of thumb: six words per slide, MAX! Dump the bullet points. Dump the giant paragraphs of text. The goal for your speech is for you to SPEAK to your audience, not bore them to sleep by reading your presentation from your slides. The best speakers also ENGAGE their audiences, something that is impossible if you're reading from your slides. Using images will anchor your message (adult learners retain 65% more information when it is accompanied by an image or graphic) and force you to master your material.
Always take handouts. Whether you choose to go with PowerPoint or not, make sure you have business cards and handouts to leave behind with your audience. While we say NO BULLETS on the slides themselves, bullets can be very useful on your handouts to summarize and/or reiterate your most important points. Also make sure your handouts have your CONTACT INFO on them, including the website where they can buy your book! Our jaws often drop when we see brilliant speakers who fail to include contact info on their handouts.
Make a list and check it twice. In your excitement to get to the presentation, you'd hate to show up without your handouts, important computer files, or a copy of your speech. Avoid the panic by making a checklist of all the items you'll need for your presentation and mark each one off as you assemble your materials and pack your vehicle.
Arrive a little early. With the Internet and GPS, there's no excuse to get lost. Make sure to allow enough time to show up at the venue at least 20 minutes early. Whatever you else happens, DO NOT BE LATE. You want to be invited back; tardiness is a sure way to tarnish your reputation. Once you arrive, familiarize yourself with the space (if you aren't already familiar with it) and make sure all your equipment is in working order and set up the way you need it.
Do "back of the room" sales. Ask in advance if you will be allowed to have copies of your book(s) on hand for back-of-room sales. Then set up your books in an eye-catching arrangement in the space provided for you. Just remember that you don't want to turn your speech into a sales pitch. If you provide content of value, the audience will want more of you — whether by purchasing books, seeking you out for other information, or inviting you to additional speaking engagements.
Greet the audience as they arrive. Take the opportunity to meet members of your audience ahead of time. Donít skulk around backstage while people are getting seated. Take that time to shake hands, introduce yourself, and learn a few names as people walk in the door. This is a great way to break the ice and warm up the audience, as well as quell your own nervous energyby creating some rapport with the audience.
Remember, itís not about you. Sure, you got the speaking engagement because have some skill, knowledge, or expertise in your particular subject matter area, but no one attends a luncheon or workshop just to hear how great some stranger thinks they are. Attendees want information, desire to be entertained, or are somehow looking to improve their lives. While you will no doubt benefit by being on the stage, the primary goal of your presentation should be to provide value to the audience.
Be flexible. So the person who invited you promised an audience of 100+. You sweated over your presentation, perfecting your opening and closing down to the last punchline, only to have 10 people show up to hear you. Are you going to be disappointed, or are you going to deliver the best speech you can? In spite of our best intentions, sometimes life happens. Events get cancelled,speaker times get shortened, rooms get switched, the AC breaks, or no one shows up. Rather than being rememberes as a complainer, wouldn't you rather be remembered as being a part of the solution? Do what you can to remain flexible. It will prevent disappointment, agitation, and a poor experience.
Lastly, remember to smile, be gracious, and by all means say thank you to the group for inviting you! After your presentation, follow up with the organizers and any new people you met. Cultivate those relationships and invite feedback. Each time, youíll receive great tips and insights regarding worked and what didnít so you can continue to improve as a speaker.