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July 18, 2002 2:55 PM CDT

Speaking of Speaking....

By

What is your greatest fear? Flying? Snakes? Deep-sea diving?

If you're like many people, public speaking ranks very high on your list of phobias. There is something about having to stand up in front of an audience and deliver information while being entertaining at the same time that seems to make even the most courageous businessperson falter.

In general, there are two kinds of speaking opportunities those targeted to your particular industry (masonry), and those targeted to your local community. Both represent value to your business in terms of image, goodwill, recognition, and possible future business down the road.

Number one on your "to-do" list for getting ready for speaking opportunities should be to get practice at this skill.

Get Practice
There is no "shortcut" to overriding the fear of public speaking. It's a lot like swimming: to learn best, you have to jump right in.

Without delay, if you haven't had training in public speaking before, research the possibilities available in your town and choose the best one for you. Some examples are joining Toastmasters (www.toastermasters.org), a civic organization that meets weekly and provides you the opportunity to test your speaking skills in a variety of formats; signing up for a Dale Carnegie public speaking workshop (www.dalecarnegietraining.com); or taking a public speaking course at the local community college.

What to Do When You're Asked to Speak
If you're invited to present at a trade show, conference, or local community event, by all means say, "Yes!" It means more practice and more visibility for your business as well as for your leadership within that industry. Here are some points to remember, however, to ensure the event goes well:

Know what you're walking into:
Find out ahead of time from the event coordinator how big the room will be, what equipment will be available, what the dress code will be, how many attendees are expected, and where you are in the program are you at the beginning? The middle? The end? Will you be allowed and/or expected to have handouts available? Knowing this information helps put your presentation in context.

Do not read from notes:
This is where Toastmasters and other seminars that focus on public speaking can help wean you from the comfort of notes to the power of seemingly extemporaneous presentations. Reading from prepared notes may make you feel safe, but it results in a very dry presentation and gives the audience the impression that you don't really know your subject matter, else why would you need 'cheat sheets?' Only the President can get away from this, and he usually has a teleprompter!

Use graphics, an overhead projector or video only if you are adept at handling them:
While graphics are great support for a presentation, they need to run smoothly. If you are not comfortable running the equipment or speaking to graphics behind you without having to constantly turn around to read the bullet points or other information, stick to just the podium speech and leave the graphics out. It will be too disconcerting otherwise for your audience.

Bring two other people from your company:
They can handle the projector and manage the handouts or any other emergencies that crop up. It is inevitable that there will be some last minute flurry of things that need caring for, and you don't want to have your concentration diverted. It's advisable to have support staff to help you out.

Find out how much time you'll have:
Know how long the event coordinator wants you to present for, and don't go over the limit! Wear a watch and put it on the podium, if there is one. Or agree ahead of time on a signal with one of your staff to indicate when you have only five minutes left. They can stand in the back of the room and raise their hand, scratch their head, whatever you agree on.

Publicize the event on your Website:
Here is a golden opportunity to promote your speaking opportunity beyond the actual event itself. Start building an area on your business Website for news and events.

How to Find Speaking Opportunities
Once you gain a level of comfort speaking, find places to present that will benefit you, your company and your industry. Most speaking opportunities are lined up anywhere from a few months to 2 years prior to the event. It's rare that you'll be asked to fill a slot at the 11th hour, or that you'll be able to land a speaking slot at that late date. So the best advice is to be prepared. Some ways to unearth opportunities:

The more people who know you, the more who'll think of you when they need speakers: join trade associations like the Mason Contractors Association of America and local chambers of commerce. Visibility=share of mind=speaking opportunities.

Within the organization to which you belong, volunteer for a position that will give you a chance to make presentation or to lead a committee.

Contact trade associations for information on their conferences at least one year prior to the conference date. Be ready to submit an abstract and biography.

Volunteer to speak. You can start small, with local organizations. In this way, you build your speaking resume. Many trade associations, along with a request for your abstract, ask for a list of conferences or meetings at which you've presented.

What Every Speaker Should Have
There are three things that every speaker should have on hand and kept updated at all times: a good digital or traditional color head-and-shoulders corporate photo, taken by a good photographer please, no cheap photos taken against your company wall! a brief bio; and a brief abstract of what the presentation will be about. See samples below of a standard bio and paper abstract:

Bio:
John Doe is the owner of Doe Masonry, a Cary, North Carolina-based company specializing in building with stone and rock. He has more than 30 years of experience in masonry and stonemasonry. Doe has a bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering and is the author of several technical papers on stone masonry presented at MCAA conferences as well as articles published in Masonry magazine.

Abstract:
"Leave no stone unturned." Dimensional stone is an old building material making a comeback in the United States. As more architects design for this material, more masons need to explore its fine points and develop strategies for constructing the buildings those architects will create. This paper will define the market, the material and the masonry methods best suited for creating stone buildings of beauty and durability.

Once you have these three elements, a bio, photo and abstract of a presentation you want to give, the rest is easy. Just practice, practice, practice and more practice.


About the Author

Linda VandeVrede is the principal of VandeVrede Public Relations, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that serves clients nationwide. VandeVrede Public Relations offers expertise in public relations, crisis planning, issues management and analyst relations.

 

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