Ten Podium Tips

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Kathleen Y’Barbo

Today is Rachel Kent’s normal day to blog but since she has spent much of the week evacuated from her Santa Rosa home and caring for her exhausted firefighter husband when he is able to catch a few hours sleep, we are going to replay one of the blogs written by long-time Bookie, Kathleen. Her background (Texas A&M Aggie) is in marketing, so today and next Monday you’ll get to enjoy some of her wisdom.

You may notice a picture of Wendy heading up this blog. That’s only because I (Wendy) was the one who posted Kathleen’s blog. Confusing enough? Rachel’s day, Wendy’s photo, Kathleen’s Blog. Can you tell things are a little topsy turvy at Books & Such? Happily, so far, Janet, Rachel and Michelle and their families are safe. We appreciate your continued prayers as their homes and the Books & Such office are still at risk from these devastating and unpredictable fires.

Thanks, Kathleen, for stepping in!

Public speaking is a great way to reach potential readers. For those who are new 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 to the podium, speak privately to the event planner to make sure this is acceptable.

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 from the podium? 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 podium tips. What can you add to my list?

17 Responses

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  1. Amen to being prepared–but be sensitive to the Spirit’s nudges. Sometimes what I say isn’t exactly what I planned, but someone is deeply touched by my words. I sit back in astonishment, “Wow, Lord.”

  2. Daphne Woodall says:

    I remember Kathleen Y’Barbo from my early years on the ACFW email loops and reading “Sugar and Grits”. I’ve always been curious about her last name.

    Love her advice on preparation for speaking. I was a Toastmasters member in my younger years and have mostly spoke in front of small groups. My biggest audience was at my dad’s funeral. It was all God that got me through that being the youngest of the siblings. When your heart believes what you are sharing the easier it is.

  3. abhay says:

    nice tips I will definitely help me to overcome podium fear

  4. Angie Arndt says:

    Great advice, Kathleen! All those tips help you feel more at ease and if you’re comfortable, the audience will be, too.

    I’ve been a teacher for years (public school, yes, but mostly adult learners and Bible studies) and one thing that helps me “get in my groove” is a clip-on mic so that I can move around the stage. That way I’m not clutching the sides of the podium, nor am I tempted to read my notes aloud. Besides, it’s hard to fall asleep when there’s a moving target. Haha!

  5. Sharon Mondragon says:

    I’m glad Daphne mentioned Toastmasters. When I first joined, it was mainly to support my husband (our club was small and needed at least 8 members to participate in competitions. I was member #8). I recently gave an acceptance speech and found my Toastmasters training stood me in good stead. Toastmasters is a great place to learn public speaking among encouraging people.

  6. Great tips, Kathleen! And prayers for all who have been affected by the fires. (And thanks for the prayers on my behalf. Still in bad trouble with high fever; still here.)
    * If I may, I’d like to add a couple of suggestions:
    1) Be yourself; you’ve had a lot of practice talking in your own voice. Don’t hit the ‘formal’ button when you walk up to the podium.
    2) Learn to talk with your hands; it’s engaging.
    3) Have a drink with you, and sip as needed. A hoarse voice puts everybody off. Water’s best, Coke works (let it go a bit flat), and though I’ve done it, a beer is a bit over the top.
    4) Dress appropriately, but in a way that gives you confidence. I typically wore black jeans, a brightly-coloured t-shirt, a white dinner jacket, and wraparound Oakleys. It was a signature look, and one advantage was that I was easy to find in the conference-floor scrum.
    5) Take along a watch you can easily read in a glance, and place it in plain sight, so you can time the wind-down.
    6) If you have Q&A afterwards, remember that some of the people who ask are trying to make themselves look smart by stumping you (this happens a lot in engineering conferences). Don’t take offense, and learn the verbal jiu-jitsu of saying, “Gee, that’s a good question! What do YOU think?”
    7) Bring a friend. Take a mascot with you – a small stuffed animal, a Darth Vader bobble-head, or whatever, and place it on the podium as your moral support. A large part of your audience will be delighted; it is in itself an icebreaker. You could use a small Jesus figure, in a bow to the old song:
    “I don’t care if it rains or freezes,
    ‘long as I got my plastic Jesus
    ridin’ on the dashboard of my car!”

  7. Carol Ashby says:

    I gave many dozens of formal presentations during my former career. I’d echo most of Andrew’s list and add one moire.
    *if the venue allows it, use visuals. It will help your audience focus on the important points. It helps them take useful notes. It forces you to prepare a tight presentation with nothing left out and nothing that doesn’t add valuable content. It also helps you stay on time, which is always appreciated by the organizers .

  8. Kathleen, this is a great list. It’s hard to think of anything to add. My daughter is taking speech right now, and she usually tries to pull it off without rehearsing as much as she should. I remind her how I go over and over and over my talk until I know it so well. When you know it that well, you can face interruptions and you can be personable. You aren’t trying to remember anything … you just know it. The only other tip I can offer is … try to avoid surgery 2 weeks prior. That really happened to me just before speaking at a women’s conference. I was so weak, but God got me through it. Which leads to my real tip … be prepared way in advance. PowerPoints, everything. When I woke up from emergency surgery, my first thought just about was how grateful I was that I hadn’t procrastinated on my speech. I was ready. All I had to do in my recovery days leading up to the conference was to continue practicing it. And yes, yes, yes … look into those sweet faces in front of you as you are talking. You will be so rewarded. 🙂

  9. I suspect the greatest reason people become nervous with public presentation is lack of preparation. If you know your material, YOU are the expert in the room, and there is no reason whatsoever to be nervous. When I was going through seminary, we were required to “preach” through each sermon a minimum of ten times before delivering it. At that point, we were allowed ONE 3″ x 5″ card for notes. With that, being glued to notes is not an option, and the only thing left is to engage verbally and visually with your audience. Preparation is everything!

  10. Such good tips! I just had the chance to speak to adults for the first time this last weekend, and they are much scarier than teenagers and kids! I loved it, we had such a wonderful time, but give me a room full of 13-year-old boys any day. They are wiggly, but strangely, easy to relate to … what does this say about me a 39 year old woman???

  11. These are awesome, Kathleen.
    In my very recent experience, and first, as “the guest speaker”, I had my notes, but I also had my best friend in the wings. I had zero fear of saying “did I miss anything?” simply because I had total trust that she’d know what I had forgotten.
    I won’t always have back-up, but having her there certainly took care of my first-timer mistakes.
    Praying for all those affected by the fires, Lord have mercy.

  12. I learned long ago that public speaking is like method acting: what you’r thinking is what the audience sees. If speakers are wondering if the audience will like what they say or worrying that they might mess up, they won’t do a good job. But If the speaker is thinking about how the information presented will help the audience the talk comes across as friendly and helpful.

  13. Thank you for stepping in to do the post Kathleen. And continued prayers for the Books and Such office, homes of Janet, Mary, and Rachel plus safety for Rachel’s husband and all. Also prayers for you Andrew.

    All ten points for the podium are spot on. In my experience, I have found it a good idea to know my topic so well that I just need an outline or key statements. If there are facts, I do put those in writing. I have a certain layout that I’ve developed, and I complete it for each presentation. I type my information on a size 14, Times New Roman, font. I use a highlighter for key areas. It is very helpful. I like my presentation to be as seamless as possible. People that hear me speak recognize my voice in my writing as well. I’m someone who loves, and I mean loves to speak, teach and make people laugh. That sanguine personality. To know this has been a life long thing, you only need to read the teachers comments on my report cards, all the way back to else start school. It can be a blessing, or a curse, depending on how I or any other person of the same nature uses the ability. Don t get me wrong, I need and cherish quiet time, but my gift is in words.I know I am responsible before God for each and everyone of them. I don’t want to waste them, nor eat them.

  14. Great reminders, Kathleen, for me as I get ready to do a booksigning event and reading. Thank you !

  15. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    I think much of the time we believe the audience expects to hear something brilliant come from our lips; the clouds part and the room is filled with rays of light and wisdom.
    As a retired teacher, I recall those first three days of Sept.; the beginning of each new year (why it’s three days, I don’t know). I do know that ALL the teachers seemed to experience the same thing. The kids were quiet and watching us and each other carefully. (new teacher, new class, new kids–even each other) Absolute silence. Sometimes we were lulled into thinking we’d have the best-behaved kids in the world for the rest of the year. Didn’t happen. They were sizing us up, just as we were doing with them.
    As soon as those days of introducing ourselves & our subjects were done, we discovered the kids really weren’t as interested in us as we thought–They were usually too involved with the lessons & those around them. Their own personal world. Even standing before them giving directions each day after that in the beg. of class (no 45 min. on-going lectures) became easier.
    We knew it wasn’t about us any longer.
    If public speaking is really not your thing, numbers 4&5 are really great; re-direct the attention to your subject by drawing in your audience (“students”) in with hand-outs or a screen presentation.
    Thanks so much for these tips, Kathleen!
    Prayers going out for Rachel, her husband, and all the Santa Rosa folks. God bless you all.

  16. Judith Robl says:

    My prayer partner covers each of my speaking engagements with prayer. Whenever possible, I take her with me to the venue. When it isn’t possible, I still know she is praying for the audience as well as the speaker.

    When the audience is appropriate, I open with a word of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to protect the ears of the audience from any gaffe I might commit and to be the guard on my tongue.

    If the audience is not a praying audience, I breathe that prayer privately before speaking. Also pray that I will remain sensitive to whatever He wants me to say, whether it was practiced or not.

    Praying for all of you in the face of these awful fires. Praying that God will place his protective hand over your lives, your homes and your office.