MARKETING MATTERS: Talking Points–Ten Tips for Taking the Stage

Kathleen Y'Barbo

Blogger: Kathleen Y’Barbo

Location: The Woodlands, TX

Last week we talked about public speaking as a way to reach potential readers. I hope some of you who were reluctant have decided to take the plunge. For you and for those who already are logging hours behind the podium, I want to offer these ten tips for taking the stage:

1.  Be prepared. Read your notes and know your material. Be comfortable enough with the points of your topic that should the pages blow off the lectern, you could go on without them.

2.  Part of this preparation is to pray. Ask the Lord to open hearts and ears, including your own, and to prepare you for delivering the message the listeners need to hear. Many speakers begin their talk with a prayer, and that’s wonderful. But before you step on the stage, speak privately to the Director.

3. If possible, take a look at the room where you’ll be speaking beforehand. Knowledge of the space will help to make you comfortable at the podium and can alert you to any potential issues such as lack of microphone or insufficient lighting.

4.  Know how to work the equipment. By this I mean be sure you can use the microphone and anything else pertinent to the talk before you attempt the feat in front of the audience. There’s nothing that puts an author off track faster than trying to make adjustments while the whole room is watching.

5.  Start with an ice breaker. I like to begin my writing workshops with a quick exercise that will lead into the topic. Other speakers might be more comfortable telling a joke or sharing a story. Choose something that will catch your audience’s attention, and give them a hint of what’s to come. Think of the hook you use as an intro to your book’s chapters and apply that technique to your talk.

6.  Keep your cool. Your knees might be knocking, but your lips ought to be smiling. Don’t let on that you’re nervous. Likely you’re the only one who knows. Perhaps a few designated pray-ers are a good idea for you. Sometimes knowing people are praying for you will be enough to ease your mind and let you get on with the business of imparting your message.

7.  Choose your wardrobe to fit the event. Always dress at the same level of formality or, if possible, slightly more formal than those to whom you will be speaking. Avoid bracelets that clank and earrings that blind the audience when struck by the spotlight. You want those in attendance to hear what you’re saying, which might be impossible if your attire is screaming for attention.

8. Make eye contact with your audience frequently. Read from your notes only if you must quote something. Remember this is a chat, a talk, and not a lecture.

9.   Acknowledge your mistakes. We all flub a line or mispronounce a word on occasion. Don’t pretend you didn’t mispronounce a word or stumble over a sentence. A smile, a shrug, and a short but sweet statement of apology before moving on is the best way to handle this inevitable situation.

10.  Turn off your cell phone. All right, this may seem like a silly thing to include in a top ten list, but how many of you can remember sitting in on an event during which the speaker’s purse began to sing the Hallelujah Chorus? Sometimes this small thing can be a big thing, so do a last minute purse check and turn off that phone. Even vibrate is probably the wrong setting, especially if your phone is vigorous in its vibration as mine is.

There are so many speaking tips. What can you add to my list?

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8 Comments

  • Valerie C. says:

    Keep a discrete bottle of water nearby. A dry mouth sounds different that a well-wet whistle and amplifying that difference can sound terrible. I find that just knowing I have it means I don’t need it but just in case … excusing yourself for a small sip if necessary can leave people free to concentrate on what you have to say.

  • Kathleen… great advice!
    I might suggest that you have some way of keeping track of time. A microphone automatically creates a warp in the space-time continuum, and your normal sense of time is waaaaaay distorted. Know how much time you’ve been allotted, and make sure there’s a clock visible.

    Oh yeah, don’t use your wrist watch for obvious reasons… take it off and lay it on your podium if you must.

  • KC Frantzen says:

    Wonderful tips!

    To add to your excellent point about jewelry – avoid dangly earrings especially if you are animated. Every time you move your head, your audience will watch your earrings instead of listening to what you have to say.

    (A very gracious mentor advised me of this at a trade show. It was very good advice. I was wondering why I wasn’t connecting with people!! What a difference after I removed those earrings! Since then I wear studs if I’m going to be in a professional setting.)

  • Talk more slowly than you think you need to, and you do just fine. When we get butterflies (or at least when I do), our speech tends to get faster. So if you take your time, your pacing will be just right.

  • I always bring an extra copy of my outline in my purse or pocket and another in the car if I’m driving. I brought the wrong notes once and had given the correct talk enough times so I did without them comfortably, but that event made me realize it could happen again. Better safe than sorry.

  • I also, like Valerie, keep some water nearby because almost always I get a “tickle” in my throat. I also have tissues somewhere near.

    If you’re standing above people (kids on the floor!) it’s best to wear pants instead of a skirt. Wear layers–sometimes it’s cold and sometimes it gets hot.

    And don’t get too upset/distracted if someone in your audience goes to sleep–I was speaking to high school writers once and one gal right in front fell asleep! I just went right on. It was warm in the room and she was really fatigued for a reason.

    I was doing a Powerpoint once and the place I was at didn’t have a “clicker” for some reason. I had my wireless mouse and just used that (on my handy clipboard I always carry) and it worked great.

  • I am by no means an expert at giving speeches. That said, I noticed during my talk at a local MOPS meeting there were concerns in the group that were not part of my prepared speech. Because I was well versed we were able to explore those concepts and then re-direct to the balance of my prepared presentation. Going with the flow and meeting those needs made my presentation stand out from the paid professionals.

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