Congratulations! You’ve landed a speaking gig. Whether you have agreed to speak at a conference, podcast, webinar, training, or other event, here are a few steps to help you prepare and make the engagement successful.
Understand the Event
You are an expert in your field. That’s why they brought you in to speak. However, if your audience is primarily working moms, your audience will have different understandings and needs than if they are primarily college students. Speaking to a group of 25 is very different than speaking to an audience of 2500.
So be sure to learn all you can about the event. Who is your audience? How many people are they expecting? Who is speaking before you? What is happening after you? Are you speaking before or after lunch? Will the event have the capability to display visuals? Will you be video or audio-recorded? These are all factors to take into consideration as you prepare for your talk.
As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression. The first few moments of any speech are critical to catch your audience’s attention. Take advantage of this. Incorporate a personal story or ask questions to drive engagement. Obviously don’t go too over the top. Pyrotechnics are not needed. But take advantage of the first few moments to grab your audience’s attention.
Be Aware of Time Constraints
In a previous job, I worked for a multi-site church with satellite locations. The service was planned out to the minute to minimize parking lot congestion. A difference of 5 minutes could mean an additional 20-30 minutes of traffic congestion in the parking lot. In addition, the satellite campuses all relied on the main campus staying on time for the satellite broadcast of the sermon.
During the summer, the senior pastor often took a break and we had guest speakers. On a particular weekend, one of our younger pastors spoke. The Saturday night service everything went off without a hitch.
The 9 am service was another story. The pastor spoke for 50 minutes – a full 20 minutes longer than expected. As producer, I heard from all the campuses, the childcare workers who had only planned 30 minutes of activities for the kids, and the parking crew who had to deal with the traffic congestion while trying to empty the parking lot as the attendees for the next service arrived.
Chances are, you won’t run into this exact problem. However, if you lose track of time, you do run the risk of losing your audience’s attention or pushing back the schedule for the rest of the event. Attention spans are short. People may love what you’re talking about, but if you talk too long, there is a good chance they’ll lose interest. So be sure to check how long the event has planned for you to speak and stick to it. Wear a watch, ask for a clock, or ask for flashing neon lights if you go over time. Whatever it takes.
Finish Strong With Practical Takeaways
Theory is fantastic. However, to truly be helpful, your presentation should give some concrete takeaways for the audience. You don’t need a long list of steps. In fact, too many action items can be overwhelming. But your audience will appreciate at least a few practical nuggets that they can bring back to their work life. A strong conclusion will reinforce and drive home your message.
Ask for Feedback
You made it! You prepared, started with a bang, provide practical takeaways, and stayed within the expected time frame. But you’re not done yet.
The temptation may be to go grab lunch and move on. However, if you’d like to continue growing as a speaker, now is the time to get feedback. Talk to the audio technicians. They see hundreds of speakers. Chances are they will have some suggestions of how you can improve. Talk to the people putting on the event. Talk to members of the audience to see what they thought.
The only way to keep getting better at speaking engagements is to continue speaking and asking for feedback each time. Figuring out where you have room to improve will help make sure your engagements are successful and fun.
What would you add to this list?
Stephanie completed her masters in public relations and corporate communications at Georgetown University in 2015. She lives outside Washington, DC with her two dogs.