A great way to share your expertise is by public speaking. There are all sorts of opportunities, from local business groups and networking meetings to major national (and international) conventions.
If you’re just starting out – and are not daunted by getting up on a stage and speaking to a group of strangers – I suggest you start with local groups. Collect feedback after every experience and then work on improvements.
As someone who’s done a lot of speaking over the past 15+ years, I have made mistakes and tried not to repeat them. Today’s post is filled with practical advice to guide you when you’re preparing for your next speech, whether it’s your first or fiftieth.
Naturally, I pay particular attention to sessions delivered by people in printing, but these tips are universal. Here goes:
- Know your audience. This is rule #1. If you don’t know who’s in your audience, you can’t prepare your presentation. Find out from the producer or host, before you even agree to speak. Keep in touch with the producer in the months and weeks leading up to your event. Try and find out who the audience is, what their titles are, their level of sophistication/experience, etc. Your presentation must be tailored to them.
- Respect your time-slot. Whether you have 30 minutes or 130, plan to use your time well. If you’re building in time for Q&A, leave room at the end of your presentation or allow “breathing room” during the presentation itself. Write for the amount of time you’re given – but be prepared to alter your speech if you need to cut it short (you will rarely if ever be asked to go longer).
- Practice until you know it really well. This is not to say you need to memorize it: au contraire. But you need to know the material inside and out. Time yourself. (You can do this in PowerPoint.) Not only will you know if you have enough or too much material for your time slot, but you’ll also get more comfortable with your presentation and with speaking aloud. The last thing you want to do on stage is to read your presentation from the slides.
- Focus on writing a strong introduction and concluding comments. People remember how you begin your presentation, so devote a lot of time working on your intro. Using stories is a great idea. Spend more time on the intro than anything else you have to say. It sets the tone, and it should make people sit up and want to hear more. For me, it’s always the hardest part to write. Similarly, make sure you end in a natural and memorable way.
- Channel your inner actor. You have to be entertaining. This means moving around the space naturally and easily – and not standing still behind a podium. Smile. Engage with your audience. Modulate your voice to prevent a snoozy monotone.
- Make your presentation as sharp as a knife. It needs a focus, an objective, which will guide everything you write and say. Every speech needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The content must flow in a natural order. Give your audience a sense of what they’ll be learning from you in your opening remarks. This roadmap helps prepare them.
- Don’t clog your slides with content. Crowded slides are illegible and annoying. Cover more ground with what you say, not what’s on the screen. Use lots of visuals to help tell your story.
- If you don’t know PowerPoint well enough, hire a pro. It will make a huge difference. I have a go-to designer when I need help with layout, images or my template.
- Add a brand ID to each slide. This isn’t blatant selling; it’s smart. I’ve seen slides where no mention of the speaker’s company is visible. A tasteful logo and small URL work just fine.
- Add Twitter hashtags to your slides. Here are my two thoughts on this: 1) if you’re presenting at a trade event, the event has a hashtag (I hope), and it should appear on every speaker’s slide – small and tasteful will do; and 2) if you have your own Twitter account, add your hashtag as well. Don’t you want folks to find and follow you?
- Act like a Virgo and be super-organized. Be prepared for emergency situations. You’ll probably use your own laptop, but put your presentation on a thumb drive as well and send it to your host just in case. Pack extra batteries. I always bring my own remote slide advancer (with batteries), so I’m not tethered to my laptop when speaking. If you’re a Mac user as I am, be sure the event producer has the right cable for your laptop. (I learned this too late – and my presentation started 20 minutes late as the technician scrounged around for the right cable.)
- Leave a little something behind. Often, your host will require and/or provide handouts of your presentation. If not, offer to send audience members a PDF copy of your presentation. Have business cards with you and any other materials that might make you memorable.
- Get there early to set up and test your equipment. Make sure the audio works. Make sure the cables are there (see #11 above). Mac users should also bring their own adapter for the projector, BTW.
- Concentrate on relaxing. Oxymoron-ish? Maybe so, but the best speakers seem totally comfortable. Their pace is good. They smile and react to questions easily. They exude confidence. They are masters at whatever they’re talking about. It may take time but it makes an immense difference.
Use these 14 tips as you prepare your next presentation. Aim for being a speaker who delivers a session that soars – and never bores.
©2015 Margie Dana. All rights reserved.