Presenting Your Talk – For Business and Professional Speakers

The big day has come. You’re ready to deliver your talk. But there are still a few final things to do before you face your audience.

Check in early. Arrive early so you can check out the logistics of the room in which you’ll be speaking. Where is the platform? Where will you be when you are introduced? How will you reach the lectern? Is the audience close enough to build intimacy? Is the light on you, not the banner and the lectern if you are not standing behind the lectern?

Microphone: Learn how to turn it off and on, and how to remove it from the stand. Practice talking into it and walking without tangling the cord around your feet. Audio/Visual Equipment: Whether it’s an overhead projector, slide projector, or a VCR, make sure the equipment is in working order, and you know how to use it. Inspect your slides, transparencies or videotapes. Are they in the right sequence? Are they in good shape? Easel or chalkboard: Do you have lots of appropriate writing materials? Appropriate markers and erasers for a chalkboard, extra paper and markers for an easel? Can you write some of your information before hand to save time during your presentation?

Connect with the organizer or emcee. Be clear about who will introduce you, and where you’ll be. (Best is to walk on from the wings!) If it’s a banquet, check that you will have a clear path to the mike. No tripping over wires, chairs, or diners. Hand the emcee your pre written introduction, and be sure he or she can pronounce your name correctly. Have it written in 18 – 20 point type, so it is easy to read, and instructions such as means pause before continuing. Let the introducer know if there are any words they are not comfortable with, they can substitute their own.

Overcome any stage fright. It’s time to look your audience in the eye and tell them all the exciting things you know they are eager to hear. If the butterflies in your stomach are taking some of the joy out of the occasion, here is what the professionals do. Find a private place to warm up by relaxing your body and face.

  • Stand on one leg and shake the other. When you put your foot back on the ground, it’s going to feel lighter. Now, switch legs and shake again. It’s a technique that actors use.
  • Shake your hands…fast. Hold them above your head, bending at the wrist and elbow, and lower them. This will make your hand movements more natural.
  • Relax your face muscles by chewing in an highly exaggerated way. Do shoulder and neck rolls.

Give your speech. Remember that the audience is really on your side. That’s the good news. People are giving you their time, and they want you to be good. They’ll stay on your side for about 30 seconds. You have about that much time to keep them on your side for the rest of your speech. How do you do that?

1. Look the part. Your first impression is hard to overcome. Looking professional adds to your credibility and that of your business.

2. Act naturally. “What an actor has to do is be personal in public,” said acting coach Lee Strasberg. Being on a stage makes you a little larger than life, but you also need to be personal in public. That’s what all those warm up exercises are about–to help you feel natural and act naturally.

3. Don’t tell what you can show. I learned this from Chuck Norris and Jean- Claude Van Damme. Norris learned it from his friend, the late Steve McQueen, who advised Norris, “Say the last word in the scene, and don’t say anything you don’t have to.” Audiences don’t go to hear what Norris or Van Damme say. They go to see what they do.

4. Choose your emphasis. Examine each word in your speech, looking for the emotion. Each word is not equally important. The audience will get your message based on the inflection and emphasis you place on key words and phrases.

5. Move about if you can. I urge you not to stand behind the lectern throughout your entire talk. It puts a barrier between you and the audience, and they feel it. However, if you feel more secure standing behind the lectern, never, never lean on it.

6. Vary your intensity. You’re new to speaking, and you’re not an actor, but you can add excitement to your talk just the same. When I saw myself on video at an effective communications seminar many years ago, I thought they were running the video on double time. The teacher kindly said, “Your strength is your energy, but think of a symphony. It has a slow, quiet movement and then builds to a crescendo. The variety makes each element more effective.” The enemy of the speaker is sameness. Stand, move, be serious, and be funny, talk loudly, talk softly, don’t speak in black and white. Speak in Technicolor!

Dealing with your audience.

The one-face myth: Have you ever heard that you should look at one friendly person in the audience? If you do, I promise you that person will ask you out to dinner because they think you’re trying to pick them up. Do NOT look at one person. Give each segment of the audience equal time and eye contact, as in pieces of a pie.

Dealing with distractions: During a speech I delivered in Australia, where they have more mobile phones than in the U.S., one man accepted three phone calls. Professional and novice speakers all face distractions during their talks. Eliminate as many as you can. When they do occur, ignore them, or incorporate them into your talk. That talk in Australia was before 2000 people, and I chose to ignore the man talking on the phone. I walked to the opposite side of the stage, away from the caller, bringing the audience’s attention. Remember that the eye follows movement. I worked the crowd from there until he hung up.

Incorporating the distraction into your talk can be tricky, and it will be different every time. A woman asked my advice about a talk she gave while an important football game was in progress. Members of her audience kept slipping out of the meeting room to get a glimpse of it in the hotel bar. I suggested she acknowledge a similar future distraction by saying something like, “If I didn’t have to work here tonight, I’d probably be watching the game. If you don’t need the information I’m offering, you can leave with my blessing. But for the benefit of those who stay, please don’t disrupt by coming back.” By acknowledging the situation and graciously allowing people to leave, you have the rest of the audience on your side.

Timing: Keep yourself on schedule by keeping a small travel-style clock set on the lectern, or a clearly visible wall clock in the room. The audience should never be aware that you’re doing this. Don’t be surprised if the meeting is running late. Ask the program chair if he or she would like you to cut a few minutes out of your talk to get the event back on schedule. It’s not as difficult as you think. Don’t sacrifice your strong opening or dramatic closing. Instead, hit the highlights of your talk, dropping some of the supporting stories or anecdotes.

If, on the other hand, the program chair asks you to stretch out your talk, here are some techniques that have worked well for me.

  • Always have an extra chunk of material prepared. Perhaps a slightly longer version of a key story or extra supportive stories for each point. What format is suitable (round-table seating), invite group discussions on one of your major points.
  • If you’re teaching a skill, invite someone in the audience to role-play it with you.
  • Ask audience members to share their personal experiences that relate to your topic (customer service, sales technique, buying real estate, etc.) When I do this, I ask, “What did you learn from this experience that you can use in your business?” I offer small prizes to those who speak up; for example, a cassette tape of one of my speeches. This guarantees others in the audience will participate more freely.

Promoting your Business.

If you’re like me, the point of speaking is to increase awareness of your business and expand your client base. Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about marketing myself. Here are some techniques that will serve you well.

Handouts: Develop a page detailing your key points. Or, if you’ve had an article published, make copies for the audience members. Make sure the handout includes your name, address and telephone number. You might also include an order blank for your product or service printed on the back of one of your handouts.

Door prizes: You can offer a door prize (this can be a product you sell or certificate for service–a free evaluation of financial status, etc.) Ask everyone to drop their business cards in a box from which you or the program chair will draw the winner or winners at the end of your talk.

Business Cards: If your goal is to develop business contacts, always collect business cards from the audience members. You can offer to send additional information, articles or tip sheets to them.

Making a Job of It.

“Mr. Fripp,” my brother was asked by a reporter, “what advice would you give to an up and coming rock musician?”
“Never fly Air Iberia.”
“I’m serious,” said the interviewer.
“So am I,” said my brother.

Most of you will be honing your speaking skills as a tool for advancing your business. A few of you may discover you’re so good at getting your message across to groups that you’re considering doing it full time, perhaps as a spokesperson for your industry or profession. If so, here’s some Fripp advice. Even if you’d never consider professional speaking, many of these tips apply to starting any new business.You bring the same qualities to speaking that you have used in your other business affairs. If you have never been even remotely successful before, you aren’t going to be now. My overnight success took nineteen years of gradual, constant growth. I worked all the time to get ready for the opportunities that came. You don’t get the opportunities first and then do the work: “I will become CEO, and then I’ll learn the business…”

You can’t make it as a speaker on your looks or the power of your personality, not even on your speaking skills. Audiences expect you to have original material or, at the very least, an original slant on your material. Can anyone else say it? Does anyone else say it? If so, don’t say it.

As you grow and develop, new material will too. Start with one good speech that people really want to hear rather than sixteen indifferent speeches. Once you have this speech, work on adapting and expanding it, ultimately turning it into a seminar. Then go for speech #2.

Socializing: Go early, go to the cocktail party or reception, walk around and look at the exhibits at a conference, talk to and learn about your audience. You have to be social. You have to be nice. I’m clear with myself and the organizers that I will go to a social event the night before, such as a dinner with the board of directors and their spouses. However, I draw the line at parties at an off-site location ten miles away with country-western dancing where my presence won’t make any difference.

Diversifying: Never have all your eggs in one basket. A speaker friend gave a presentation about how he had lost ninety-six speaking engagements in two days. He had three clients that each booked more than thirty dates. Then all three had business reversals. Another speaker was thrilled that 70 percent of his business came from IBM. Guess what happened when IBM eliminated all outside contractors?

Free speech: There is no such thing as a free speech. There are just speeches that you don’t get paid for directly. Even at this stage in my career, I still do “targeted showcases” for meeting industry groups as part of my over-all marketing strategy. I don’t expect anything to come of them, but it’s amazing how often they produce future business.

My early clients didn’t realize that my “free speeches” cost me about $130 each for preparation, travel, and lost time at my salon. To get customers for my hairstyling salon, I spoke for civic and community organizations. I told them stories about customer service and funny things that had happened in my salon. At the end of my presentation, I’d put their business cards in a hat and pull out one for a free hairstyling. These cards quickly built my mailing list.

Negotiating: If there’s an organization that can’t pay, but you really want to speak for them, remember these magic words: “What else can you give me?” The first year I was a full-time speaker, my calendar wasn’t as full as it is now. A woman had heard me speak at the National Association of Catering Executives. “I know you’re worth it because I’ve seen you,” she said, “but we can’t afford your fee.” “Let’s not give up so easily,” I said. In the end, my brother and I spent five days at a lovely hotel in Berkeley, with a suite each, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including one with friends–all for one free speech to 150 meeting planners on a day I wasn’t booked. If we’d actually paid for it, the cost would have exceeded my fee. This was one of the best vacations my brother and I ever had together.

Another time a woman called me and said, “I hear you’re the best speaker in the world.” “You heard right,” I said. She was program chair for Women in Travel and wanted me to speak at their installation of officers. The date was open on my calendar, but they couldn’t afford me. “Well, I don’t need the practice,” I told her, “and I’m not doing it for nothing, but I will take a trade. Why don’t you call me back tomorrow with your best offer you can.”

The next day, she called back. “Would you take a free, round-trip, first class airline ticket to England?” “You negotiator, you!” I said.

Just Do It!

Speaking before a group of strangers can be intimidating. Just keep focused on the positive impact the presentation will have on your business reputation and your bottom line.

Don’t expect to be a magnificent speaker the first time out. Your goal is to present the most valuable information possible to the members of the audience. Think of it as the beginning of many long-term relationships.

Go on! Step up on the podium and profit from the experience!