Your first opportunity to speak to an audience can provide many followup opportunities if you handle yourself professionally. Nobody has to know that speaking publicly might cause you to break out in hives. With luck, you may be asked to return or you may attract the attention of someone looking for interesting, informative, and stirring speakers for their group.
If your topic has been pre-selected, your work in that area has been done for you. The committee has chosen the theme for the talk and they’ve not only told you what to focus on, but in most instances they’ve explained what they want their audience to get from the event and how your speech fits into the whole.
All you need to do is make sure you stay within the perimeter of that and have something worthwhile to say. Your topic doesn’t need to be new, but if it’s a traditional topic, then your speech should be innovative and as cutting edge as you can make it. You should offer a new solution or approach that will yield better results.
If you are instructed to choose the topic yourself, research the organization and know its purpose. If it’s a charitable organization, know its past achievements and its goal.
After you’ve researched the topic, decide how you will present it for the purpose of your speech. Will you be persuasive, informative, entertaining, or a combination of the three? Next, decide your presentation. Will you use Power Point, handouts, an interactive activity, an ice breaker, or a traditional lecture? To choose the right options you should be familiar with your crowd, organization, and purpose.
I like to commit my speeches to memory as often as possible. This makes it appear that I’m speaking extemporaneously. This allows for greater engagement with the audience and it allows me to gauge the audience and determine how I’m being received.
If there are too many frowning faces or furrowed brows and not enough nodding heads, I can modulate my voice, make more eye contact, try a touch of humor with an anecdote.
Your excitement at being asked to speak shouldn’t overshadow the expectations the audience will have of you. You must meet their expectations as well. Their leaders have chosen you and the audience expects your advice, expertise, and information to be on point.
The thrill of speaking about a subject you know and enjoy or one that you are immensely curious about is contagious. Being considered an expert, sought after speaker is as close as you will possibly get to superstardom. You will find yourself growing from hating speaking to liking it, and seeking additional opportunities.
Enjoy your control over the crowd as you use your vocal skills to engage, charm, and teach. If they’re with you, you won’t want the speech to end and they won’t either, but you must release them. Don’t go on and on. If you were good, the crowd will find you when it’s over. They will stay and engage with you.
Don’t hesitate to look for opportunities to speak in your hometown. Try civic organizations and church affairs. Participate in writing workshops at the local library and junior colleges. Build your following. Sign-up to lecture for book clubs or writer’s conferences. Return to your high school or college English classes and thrill the students. Start small and watch your reputation grow.