The big day has come. You're ready to deliver your talk. But you need to do a few final things before facing your audience.
Check in early. Arrive early so that you can check out the logistics of the room in which you'll be speaking. Where is the platform? Where will you be when you are introduced? How will you reach the lectern? Is the audience close enough to build intimacy? Is the light on you?
Familiarize yourself with the microphone. Learn how to turn it off and on, and how to remove it from the stand. Practice talking into it and walking without tangling the cord around your feet.
Understand your technical equipment. Whether it's an overhead projector, slide projector, or a VCR, make sure that the equipment is in working order and that you know how to use it. Inspect your slides, transparencies, or videotapes. Are they in the right sequence? Are they in good shape?
Be ready to write. Do you have lots of appropriate writing materials for your easel or chalkboard, and extras of everything? Can you write some of your information beforehand to save time during your presentation?
Connect with the organizer or emcee. Be clear about who will introduce you and where you'll be. (Best is to walk on from the wings.) If it's a banquet, check that you will have a clear path to the mike -- no tripping over wires, chairs, or diners. Hand the emcee your prewritten introduction, and be sure that he or she can pronounce your name correctly. Have it written in 18 - 20 point type so that it is easy to read, and make sure it clearly includes any special instructions. Let the introducers know that if there are any words they are not comfortable with, they can substitute their own.
It's time to look your audience in the eye and tell them all the exciting things you know they are eager to hear. If the butterflies in your stomach are taking some of the joy out of the occasion, here is what the professionals do.
Find a private place to warm up by relaxing your body and face. Stand on one leg and shake the other. When you put your foot back on the ground, it's going to feel lighter. Switch legs and shake again. It's a technique that actors use. Shake your hands fast. Hold them above your head, bending at the wrist and elbow, and lower them. This will make your hand movements more natural. Relax your face muscles by chewing in an highly exaggerated way. Do shoulder and neck rolls.
Give your speech. Remember that the audience is on your side. That's the good news. People are giving you their time, and they want you to be good. They'll stay on your side for about 30 seconds. You have about that much time to keep them on your side for the rest of your speech. How do you do that?
Look the part. First impressions are hard to overcome. Looking professional adds to your credibility and that of your business.
Act naturally. "What an actor has to do is be personal in public," said acting coach Lee Strasberg. Being on a stage makes you a larger than life, but you also need to be personal in public. That's what all those warm-up exercises are about -- to help you feel natural and act naturally.
Don't tell what you can show. I learned this from Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Norris learned it from his friend, the late Steve McQueen, who advised Norris, "Say the last word in the scene, and don't say anything you don't have to." Audiences don't go to hear what Norris or Van Damme say. They go to see what they do.
Choose your emphasis. Examine each word in your speech, looking for the emotion. Every word is not equally important. The audience will get your message based on the inflection and emphasis you place on key words and phrases.
Move about if you can. I urge you not to stand behind the lectern throughout your entire talk. It puts a barrier between you and the audience, and they feel it. However, if you feel more secure standing behind the lectern, never lean on it.
Vary your intensity. You're new to speaking, and you're not an actor, but you can add excitement to your talk just the same. When I saw myself on video at an communications seminar many years ago, I thought they were running the video on double time. The teacher said, "Your strength is your energy, but think of a symphony. It has a slow, quiet movement and then builds to a crescendo. The variety makes each element more effective." The enemy of the speaker is sameness. Stand, move, be serious and be funny, talk loudly, talk softly, don't speak in black and white. Speak in Technicolor!
Patricia Fripp is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach and professional speaker on change, teamwork, customer service,promoting business, and communication skills. She isthe author of Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It and Get What You Want! Fripp also served as president of the National Speakers Association. She can be contacted via e-mail, at 800-634-3035, or through her Web site Fripp.com.