Editor's note: This article is the fifth in a series on preparing and presenting the perfect speech. If you have questions or comments regarding this series of articles, join in on our inc.com discussions area.

Dealing with Your Audience

  • The one-face myth. Have you ever heard that you should look at one friendly person in the audience? If you do, I promise you that person will ask you out to dinner because they think you're trying to pick them up. Do NOT look at one person. Give each segment of the audience equal time and eye contact, as in pieces of a pie.
  • Dealing with distractions. Eliminate as many as you can. When they do occur, ignore them, or incorporate them into your talk. During a speech I delivered in Australia before 2000 people, one man accepted three phone calls. I chose to ignore him. I walked to the opposite side of the stage, away from the caller, bringing the audience's attention. Remember that the eye follows movement. I worked the crowd from there until he hung up.

    Incorporating the distraction into your talk can be tricky, and it will be different every time. A woman asked my advice about a talk she gave while an important football game was in progress. Members of her audience kept slipping out of the meeting room to get a glimpse of it in the hotel bar. I suggested she acknowledge a similar future distraction by saying something like, "If I didn't have to work here tonight, I'd probably be watching the game. If you don't need the information I'm offering, you can leave with my blessing. But for the benefit of those who stay, please don't disrupt by coming back." By acknowledging the situation and graciously allowing people to leave, you have the rest of the audience on your side.
  • Timing. Keep yourself on schedule by keeping a small travel-style clock set on the lectern, or a clearly visible wall clock in the room. The audience should never be aware that you're doing this. Don't be surprised if the meeting is running late. Ask the program chair if he or she would like you to cut a few minutes out of your talk to get the event back on schedule. It's not as difficult as you think. Don't sacrifice your strong opening or dramatic closing. Instead, hit the highlights of your talk, dropping some of the supporting stories or anecdotes.

    If, on the other hand, the program chair asks you to stretch out your talk, here are some techniques that have worked well for me.
    1. Always have an extra chunk of material prepared. Perhaps a slightly longer version of a key story or extra supportive stories for each point. If the format is suitable (e.g., roundtable seating), invite group discussions on one of your major points.
    2. If you're teaching a skill, invite someone in the audience to role-play it with you.
    3. Ask audience members to share their personal experiences that relate to your topic (customer service, sales technique, buying real estate, etc.) When I do this, I ask, "What did you learn from this experience that you can use in your business?" I offer small prizes to those who speak up; for example, a cassette tape of one of my speeches. This guarantees others in the audience will participate more freely.

Promoting your Business

If you're like me, the point of speaking is to increase awareness of your business and expand your client base. Over the years, I've learned a great deal about marketing myself. Here are some techniques that will serve you well.

Handouts. Develop a page detailing your key points. Or, if you've had an article published, make copies for the audience members. Make sure the handout includes your name, address, and telephone number. You might also include an order blank for your product or service printed on the back of one of your handouts.

Door prizes. You can offer a door prize (this can be a product you sell or certificate for service -- a free evaluation of financial status, etc.) Ask everyone to drop their business cards in a box, and draw the winner at the end of your talk.

Business Cards. If your goal is to develop business contacts, always collect business cards from the audience members. You can offer to send additional information, articles, or tip sheets to them.

Read the rest of this series:

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.

Copyright © 2000 Patricia Fripp