Making Speeches to Open Doors of Opportunity

What?! Stand up in front of an audience and give a speech! Are you kidding? I’d rather die!
— Said Almost Everybody

In fact, most people are terrified to give speeches-but once you overcome your fear, speaking to audiences large or small can be a powerful way to generate job opportunities and drive your career. You will discover that by giving speeches, your credibility sky-rockets. In essence, you are showcasing your talents, expertise, and confidence. Frequently, after your presentation, you will be invited by a member of the audience to speak to another group. You may also be asked to work with companies in a consulting, contract, or employment role to help them achieve success. Plus, a list of your presentations on your resume is a grand-slam home run.

Let's take a look at how you can generate speaking opportunities. Then I'll give you some easy tips and tricks to overcome your fear and give powerful presentations that leave your audience begging for more. Yes, even you can be a great speaker. You just have to make the effort, and practice every opportunity you get.

Ok, now let's go out and land some speaking engagements. Here is a simple two-step process:

You need a topic.

Everyone is an "expert" at something. The problem is that many of you don't recognize your special talent as being noteworthy. Yet there are many people that can benefit from your knowledge. I don't care if you are young or old, rich or poor, employed or unemployed; you have a wealth of information that will benefit others. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing. An administrator could speak on organization skills: "Throw Out the Old, In With the New: Organization Secrets that Will Save You Thousands of Dollars." A housewife could speak on coping with stress: "How I Raised Five Kids and Still Kept My Sanity." An executive could speak on leadership: "Go Where No Others Have Gone and Leave a Trail to Follow."

You need an audience.

You might not realize it, but there is a huge number of local clubs, non-profit organizations, community groups, church groups, social groups and trade associations that are in search of speakers. You just have to approach these groups with your topic, state why it is relevant to their audience, and show them a summary of your experience as someone with a vast amount of information to share with the group. You will be amazed at how easy it is to land those speaking gigs.

Now I want you to overcome your fear . . . not your fear of speaking, but your fear of revealing something of yourself. Most people fear to speak in front of an audience because they are afraid of how they might look or sound. I can't tell you how many times I have had new speakers say they just don't want to "make a fool of themselves". It is rare that any speaker makes a fool of him- or herself. Usually it is the audience that makes fools of themselves! You need to understand that EVERYONE has "butterflies" before giving a presentation. The secret is to get the butterflies to fly in formation. Here's how:

1. Breathe Deeply.

Before you walk out in front of your audience, take a few deep breaths. Breathe in through your mouth, hold the oxygen in your lungs, then expel through your nostrils. The fresh oxygen eases the tension and makes the mind work better. Try it a couple of times. You will see what I mean. I have a great videotape of Johnny Carson doing this before he would go on the Tonight Show. Yes, even Johnny Carson got butterflies. And before he walked on stage in front of millions in his TV audience, he would breathe deeply a couple of times to relax and get his mental juices flowing.

2. Know Your Introduction.

You don't have to memorize it, but practice many times so that it flows smoothly.

3. Know Your Material.

Research, analyze, absorb and understand all the nuances of your material. A little tidbit: anyone who reads three books on any one subject knows 90 percent more than the rest of the world on that subject.

4. Know Your Audience.

What are their expectations? Education level? Demographics? You want to adjust your presentation to the needs of the audience.

5. Interact with Your Audience.

During your presentation, get out from behind the podium and interact. Ask questions, solicit comments and involve them in short give-and-take. Everyone will feel more connected to you and respect your presentation.

6. Rehearse.

Practice makes perfect. Don't memorize your speech. If you do, your speech will sound canned, but practice as many times as possible so that you really know your material and what you want to say. Practice in front of your family-even your dog or cat . . . just make certain you practice.

Ok, now you have gotten the butterflies to fly in formation and you are ready to knock the socks off your audience. Here are a few ways to put pizzazz into your presentation:

1. Eye Communication.

As you move about your audience, make direct eye contact with different individuals. Hold that eye contact for four to six seconds. That connection brings intimacy to your presentation and everyone feels your sincerity.

2. Voice Communication.

You want to display a roller coaster of energy. Use a combination of varied pace, pitch and pauses.

3. Gestures.

Novice speakers have a hard time making expansive gestures with their arms or body, and they restrict their movement in the audience. They stand like beanpoles in one spot. When you practice, practice with movement. Here is a challenge. Practice your speech without words. Just practice your body language.

4. Touch Their Hearts.

My speaking philosophy is simple. If you touch my mind, I will be grateful, but if you touch my heart, I will never forget you. Capture your audience with stories from the human experience: comedy, tragedy, romance, family, friends, living, dying, career success, or career failure. Your audience will always identify with the human experience. You will have touched their hearts. You will have given a powerful presentation.

5. Introductions with Pizzazz.

Get your speech off to a great start by telling a story from the human experience. But other introductions can also be powerful including the following: ask provocative questions, present a startling fact, use relevant quotations.

6. Conclusions That Leave Them Begging For More.

Here is a common mistake made by almost every speaker. At the conclusion of the speech, he/she takes questions. Guaranteed the presentation will end on a flat note. Rather, you should indicate at the beginning of your speech, you will take questions, but then after the questions you will have some closing remarks. These closing remarks will be your opportunity to WOW your audience. Your conclusions should include at least one of the following: a) Establish self-esteem. Give them a reason to feel good about themselves. b) A call for action. Challenge them to achieve an attainable goal. c) Bridge over troubled water. Be a catalyst of ideas that helps overcome problems, deal with crises, or reach out to others. d) Involvement in their cause. Encourage them to become involved in their passions: to join, to write, to promote, or to sponsor. e) Inspire to excellence. Challenge them to achieve peak performance, embark on a noble quest, and be victorious in whatever they do.

I have only scratched the surface in terms of using speaking to drive your career, but perhaps I have motivated you to learn more and begin the process. Most of you have heard of the Toastmasters organization. I encourage all of you to join a local chapter. It is an extraordinary community of wonderful people who will help you in your quest to be a speaker.

Take the challenge. Build your topic, find an audience, and speak from your heart. The personal satisfaction, pride, sense of accomplishment, and the gift you have given to others, are rewards you will receive that are beyond description.

Don is a nationwide authority and sought-after speaker on job search strategies. His organization produces world-class online portfolios and strategies to market executives. He also connects executives to corporate board positions. Contact Don at or 916-783-0860. Website:

Tyler WestComment