How to Begin Public Speaking for Business

Various surveys have revealed that the fear of Death is no match for the stark Terror of speaking before a group in public. Apparently most people would choose an early entrance into their eternal destiny rather than look stupid for a brief nanosecond of time. Like most decisions related to eternity, this view is extremely short-sighted, as the benefits of preparing for both far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.

Speaking in Public has Important Benefits

* You become very good at organizing your message

* People look to you as an authority in your field

* Opens many doors for you and/or your business

* Gives you exposure to the leaders in your community and industry

* You will establish valuable contacts and friendships

Few Are Born Public Speakers

I used to be the geeky unpopular kid no one wanted on their team. As would be expected, such a situation can be tough on one’s sense of self-worth. When I was entering 7th grade I signed up for a semester of Electronics, already being well-acquainted and skilled with the soldering iron. But all the guys wanted this into this course, so when I looked at my new schedule, instead of Electronics it said, Speech and Drama.

Say what?

Frozen in panic, fear and disbelief, I was suddenly thrust into a social situation dominated by kids who, unlike me, were usually both popular and attractive. But what was even worse, I was almost instantly given a prepared speech which I was to deliver first to the class, and then 3 times in a regional Speech Contest. To be held on a Saturday, no less.

The speech was a bit of a stand-up comedy routine, and as I stood before a room full of other contestants that Saturday morning, my terror very quickly turned to something very different. After the first joke or two, I was getting laughs. By the time my 5 minutes were up, I was feeding on the positive response and glowing to the sound of applause. This was a life-changing event for me, kind of like a childhood trauma in reverse.

But I learned something very important: It really is true-The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

People Respect You When You Can Speak in Public

I have already mentioned the fear most people have at the very idea of speaking in public. It’s this primal terror they feel that gives them awe and respect for someone who can confidently stand before a crowd and deliver a powerful, interesting, informative, and entertaining presentation. The very fact that you can do this causes people to consider you an expert authority for your topic. Creating this kind of presentation is not difficult if you follow some well-established guidelines. Here are some things that have worked very successfully for me, so they should work very well for you.

Do What You Fear Most

Assuming you are like most people and have a fear of Public Speaking, it’s vitally important that you deaden that fear by repetition. Speaking before a small group of people who will encourage and critique will help you gain confidence in your ability, train you to break bad habits and establish good ones, and allow you to develop a personal style. Toastmasters International was created to help you with these very things, and attending the weekly meetings should be the first thing on your list in preparation for what lies ahead. When you join you will receive a membership kit with assignments for different types of speeches and topics which you will complete before the club members. This will give you experience and develop your hidden talents.

Prepare and Practice

The best advice I can give you is to Over-Prepare for your presentations. The more you prepare and practice, the more confident you will be. This confidence is very important for your audience to see. We have all seen speakers that we didn’t truly believe. Regardless of what you think about the politics of Ronald Reagan, friend and foe alike regarded him as “The Great Communicator.” Reagan was always at ease before a crowd. He was able to inspire and motivate, and easily transitioned between humorous and serious. And people believed him.

When I prepare to give a presentation, whether before a small group or large, I practice my talk all the way through, twice each day. For over a month. Prior to that I spend whatever time it takes researching, organizing and writing my talk until I am satisfied it is the very best I can do. And then I work on it some more.

Use Props and Projectors

The use of Visual Aids serves two purposes. The most important for you is that they give you something to do and hide behind. Nothing is tougher than standing almost naked (in your best suit, of course) in front of a crowd with nothing at all between you and them. It can be done, but it takes a great deal more work and practice. Assuming you are speaking for the purpose of enhancing your business presence and don’t have the time to hone your skills to that of a professional actor, using an assortment of props removes much of the attention away from you and involves your audience in something else. This is good for you, but it’s good for your audience as well because props make your presentation much more interesting and engages more of their senses.

I’ve seen speakers use balloons, white boards, Tinker Toys, beach balls, milk bottles, playing cards-the supply is endless when you start getting creative. But you must make absolutely sure each prop somehow ties in completely with your talk. It’s always fun when your prop at first appears to be totally out place, only to end up the perfect illustration by the end of the sequence. Your audience will appreciate your cleverness.

PowerPoint presentations can work wonderfully, as you get to stand in the dark and direct all attention to the screen and away from you. But the caveat here is to avoid the “Dilbert” presentation with an endless stream of white pages and black text. Your audience will fall asleep in no time. My best presentations are full of graphics. I try to place some kind of picture on every slide, even it’s only a small one. Then other slides will have large illustrations with little text. This works great for transitions from subject to subject. I once gave a talk where the first part was Bullet Points. I could see the people’s eyes collectively glazing over. But as soon as the Stock Market charts came up I could see people literally pop up in their seats and a sleepy room suddenly came alive.

If your presentation is longer than 30 minutes, break it up with some Q&A. I place a slide with a big question mark at the end of each section. Taking questions at predetermined times during your talk keeps the audience involved, but it controls the flow. Saving all questions until the end of a long presentation frustrates people. But if they know they can ask their question within the next 10 minutes they will wait patiently.

A very important thing to establish in advance is what equipment will be available to you. If you prepare your PowerPoint on a desktop computer but you don’t have a laptop, make sure the group to whom you are speaking has some type of PC available. Save your presentation on a disk, and on a thumb drive to ensure you have a backup method of delivery. Include the PowerPoint Viewer so you are not dependent on whatever software you discover at the last minute is not present on the borrowed computer. If you have your own laptop, even better. Be sure it is capable of attaching to most projectors. Projectors are expensive, so assuming you don’t have your own, confirm in advance that they provide the projector. Find out what model, if possible. And always carry your own laser pointer.

You Are the Humble Authority

Always assume 95% of your audience knows almost nothing about your subject. All of your study, research, and preparation have made you the expert and authority. This will help you to be confident. But also assume the other 5% of your audience can run circles around you with the great depth of knowledge and experience they have with your topic. This will help you stay humble.

It’s this combination of confidence and humility that will attract people to you. You will attract follows that pay you and mentors who guide you. Continue learning your subject and honing your skills. Always have a presentation ready and seek business and community groups for speaking opportunities. Such groups need speakers on a continual basis. And they are looking for knowledgeable, entertaining speakers who will speak for free. That would be you.

Don’t Forget to Close the Sale

Obviously, the reason you are going through all this effort is to help build your business, so never lose sight of your goal. Your presentation is a selling opportunity. The last slide of your PowerPoint should include your most important contact information: your logo, website URL, phone number at the very least should be visible. Leave this slide on the screen as you answer questions at the end of your talk.

You may want to have hard copy handouts for the entire group, or at least for the important players from the group to hand out later. Never distribute your handouts before your presentation or your audience may be tempted to skip ahead and you will lose their attention.

Always have plenty of business cards handy. I bring many more than I need. If you have a dynamite brochure or FAQ sheet, have those available, as well.

If you have a published book, by all means bring as many copies as you can and arrange for someone to be at the table handling the sales. In a corporate setting your books should be part of your fee and will be handed out free to the attendees. Hand-signed, of course!

Have your presentation available as a PDF file. Talk to as many people from the group as possible and determine who has a website that would benefit from your knowledge. Offer to give them your PDF presentation to post on their website. Or offer to give them the HTML webpage of your talk. Both of these methods are excellent ways of getting Backlinks-and sometimes some pretty good ones.

During your initial talks with the group setting up your speaking engagement, be sure to mention these options up front, as it makes you appear prepared and professional. One group I spoke to recorded my presentation, dubbing the audio onto my PowerPoint. It remains on their website to this day. Software tools like Camtasia Studio can do this too, so you may wish to have an MP4 of your presentation on hand for them.

Public Speaking is both challenging and rewarding. Hopefully I have inspired you to take your business to the next level. You won’t regret it!