Last Friday, I did something that was new, important to me and a lot harder than I thought. As I’ve noted before, I’ve started doing public speaking events to publicize my books. Over the months, I decided to branch out and expand the topics on which I speak.
Well, as one can imagine, you just can’t hang a shingle out and companies start rushing your door to have you come speak to them. I’ve booked a couple myself, but it is hard, hard, time-consuming work and I don’t have a track record. In short, brokering speakers ain’t a business I want to be in.
Through networking (How else do good things happen?), I was referred to an agent looking for “new voices.” She does the booking and I do the speaking. Sounds easy, but it is not.
One of the first things she asked me was, did I have a “reel?” Guessing that meant do I have a recorded speech or two she could use and the answer was no.
Next question, “Where can I hear you speak?” No problem. I gave her the date of a Rotary Club in the local area. Having her in the audience made me more nervous but it came off O.K. because it was a topic I knew cold and had given many times.
Next evolution… Her agency was holding a “speaker showcase” in which she was going to invite local clients/prospects to hear 13 of her “speakers.” It took me about thirty seconds of listening to what the event was about to say “I’m in…”
We agreed to a topic and I started prepping. One condition was “no slides….” It would be a good way to practice being a keynote speaker.
There was no way I was going to memorize a 20-minute speech. What I did was write out the speech in bullets. When I was satisfied with that, I set it aside and wrote down (actually, I typed it on my laptop) the key points in the right sequence without referring to the detailed outline.
I got most of it right, but then started reordering them to make it flow better. Next question, how do I rehearse?
One option was standing in my office and talking for twenty minutes sort of worked. To be honest, I felt stupid. More importantly, when I started, my dogs who normally sack out on the flokati carpet got up and left!
Another option was to sit in a chair, close my eyes and run through the talk. That worked pretty well. The best one was on my daily walk with the dogs, the run through the speech in my mind. That seemed to work best. I could play with intros, sections and the supporting vignettes.
We – my agent and I – did do one formal rehearsal over the phone. It went O.K. and by the day before, I was pretty confident that I could deliver on the day of the showcase. That was until I walked into the theater. My nervousness got worse when I got on the stage and faced the bright lights. You can barely see the audience because the lights make it feel like you are looking into the sun. Sunglasses are not an option!
If being nervous before a performance is a good thing, then I knew I was prepared. My biggest fear was that someplace during the talk, I would lose my train of thought. It happened almost in every run through and almost always at the same spot. It was as if I had a mental block.
Guess what? I was going swimmingly through the presentation and then, right on cue, I came up with a mental block. My mind went blank, so rather than just stop, I started another vignette that wasn’t “planned, but relevant” and sure enough, the next section popped into my brain and away I went.
It came out great… Or at least that’s what my agent thought as did several members of the audience.