Preparing for a Freelancer’s First Speaking Gig

So you’ve landed your first speaking gig, now what?

I could probably write 3,000 words on the subject, but we’re all too busy for that, so here is the quick list on what helps me when speaking in front of an audience of 5 or 50:

If this is your first speaking gig, pull out your video recorder. It doesn’t have to be Hollywood movie quality, just something you can review later and critique yourself. This will help you improve your speaking abilities and become a more polished presenter.

Research, research, research~Anyone who knows me, knows I take research seriously. If you want to be an effective speaker you’ve got to know your audience, content and subject matter. It also helps if you know the background of your audience members. You can then tailor your speech to fit them and this will in turn help you connect.

I recently presented to a local Chamber group and I found it helpful to allow areas throughout the speech to stop and engage them either with questions or ideas. It kept everyone involved and interested in the material. It was also a small group, so I had everyone introduce themselves and answer 2 questions for me. Obviously, this wouldn’t work for a large group, but when you have a smaller setting, you can be more flexible and personable.

If speaking is brand new to you, watch your mentors if they present regularly to groups. Been to any conferences lately? That is also a great place to pick up tips, what to do and not to do. You can also observe body language, how attendees respond to different presentation styles, visual support options and acoustics.

Now onto your speech!

Try to write in your natural tone of voice. If you just copy a bunch of material from somewhere, it will be obvious. You must make the material your own, but be sure to give credit where credit is due. If you use a quote or content from another source, be honest and share the source with the group.

Examples are great, both from your own experience and from others. Attendees like to know you practice what you present. They also like examples of how they can apply the material to their own situation.

Also be sure to practice your speech in front of the mirror or better yet in front of a friend or colleague. Then you can gain feedback from their critique on how to polish your presentation and you’ll also get a feel for timing… assuming you’ll probably have a time limit.

Don’t forget these preparations~

It is also helpful to check out the space and technology available for the location you’ll be presenting. I used my iPad for my last two workshops but I made sure well in advance that my technology was compatible with the host projection system. Also, if you can run through your speech in the space with a video recorder, that can help you prepare as well. Next, think about supporting visuals or graphics, such as a slideshow or, my favorite, Keynote software to add visual impact to your content.

If all your audience has to look at IS YOU for 2 hours while you drone on, you’ll get more than a few yawns and looks of despair during your presentation.

Also consider hand-outs, lined paper, pens, water/coffee, light snacks when appropriate for your attendees. I give out feedback sheets at the end of my presentations and I have learned through experience that the audience appreciates these things when they are available at the meeting.

The big day!

I was once told prior planning prevents poor performance and it has stuck with me ever since. If you are prepared, you’ll do a great job. Be early for your presentation, set up and then allow yourself time to meet attendees and grab a bottle of water.

Be yourself, be confident, stay focused, SMILE and make eye contact throughout your presentation. Don’t pick one or two attendees to stare at the entire time, you’ll make everyone uncomfortable. Make sure to allow yourself latitude if the audience looks bored or if they need further clarification on a certain point, but be sure not to wander from your script.

Play up your strengths and don’t try to be someone you aren’t. Don’t try to be humorous if it isn’t natural. When wrapping up your presentation, leave the audience wanting more, but not confused. I was once the victim of an hour long presentation that could have been 10 minutes. By the end, the presenters had the audience so confused, I thought they’d all run out, screaming “the sky is falling!”

The Polished Finish~

End on a strong note. Restate the main points of your speech. Then, give your audience a memorable conclusion, a few good take away points and sources for further information if needed. If you can allow for a few minutes for questions at the end, that is good too.

Now, go get ‘em! And then let me know how your speaking gig went, what did you learn, and what did you gain?

BTW: At the Creative Freelancer Conference 2013, June 22-24 in SF, 4 attendees will have 10 minutes to present to up to 500 people on their best business practices. They’ll also be coached in advance by Jezra Kaye, president of Speak Up for Success.

Register by March 15 and get $100 off with promo code, “ILISE”