One of the best ways to promote your product or service and expand your customer base is also one of the cheapest. Interested? It's public speaking. I know this from firsthand experience.

When I started out, I had no public speaking experience, but I studied what the professional speakers did. What I learned helped me develop and deliver my first talk. Here are some of the best principles and techniques I've learned and developed in speaking for the last two decades, customized for all you shaking-in-your-boots, but-eager-to-enhance-your-business nonspeakers.

Why should I give talks?

Talking about what you do is exciting, fun, and great publicity. When I started, I owned a hairstyling business. I began talking about it at local service organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis, and Optimists, and then for businesses belonging to my clients. My talks increased my hairstyling business. How did I know?

If I spoke at a breakfast meeting, three members of that audience would make appointments for lunchtime the same day. Your results may not be quite as dramatic -- you may be selling cemetery plots, construction equipment, or financial services -- but I guarantee that an effective talk is going to bring you recognition, eventual business, and add to your company's public relations.

What do I talk about?

What do you know that other people want to know? What do you know that other people should know? What are the questions people ask you most often about your business, opinions, or life experiences?

If you want the podium to be a vehicle for promoting your product or service, you have an excellent starting point. I wanted people to know how terrific my hair design salon was, but no one is eager to listen to a sales pitch. Instead, I talked about the importance of appearance and about customer service. My speeches were indirectly about my business. I had a drawing of business cards and gave away a free hairstyle to the winner; these business cards could then be added to my salon mailing list. Some people went back and reported to their service club about their pleasant experience at my salon.

Who is my audience?

Sometimes you have a topic and have to find the right audience for it. Other times you're asked to speak but don't know what to talk about. Recently, a friend asked for my help with a talk she had been asked to present. I told her about three vital audience questions to ask yourself as you develop your speech:

  1. Who will be in my audience?
  2. How long will my talk be?
  3. Why have they asked me to speak?

Consider your audience's needs and desires as you develop every aspect of your speech.

Where do I get material?

This is the question I'm asked most often. You'd think that, after nearly two decades of professional speaking, I'd run out of things to say, but just the opposite is true. I am constantly discovering new material everywhere. Here's how.

  1. Review your own experiences. When top speaker Danny Cox decided to go professional, he went to the beach with a pad and pencil. He reviewed his life, making a list of the experiences and situations that could serve as good (or bad) examples for other people -- high points and low points, failures and successes.

    Make a similar list. Include those sudden and stunning bits of insight that come to you in the shower or car. Or maybe you said something to a friend that was particularly funny or memorable. Relive your life and write it all down.
  2. Start clipping and collecting. While no audience wants to hear you tell other people's recycled stories, there is one exception. When you read or hear something that makes you laugh, cry, or just interests you, clip it out or write it down. File it in a folder or your word processor. Then share it, along with your own comments and reactions.
  3. Keep a journal. If you're going to be addressing a particular group a few weeks from now, keep a small notebook handy to jot down ideas and situations related to your topic and audience. Then, when you actually sit down to write, you'll have plenty of material.

Read the second article in this series, "Writing and Organizing a Winning Speech".

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

Copyright © 2000 Patricia Fripp