Give a Great Talk, Part 1

“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the ways you can market your product or service is through public speaking.

For instance, you’ll often see financial seminars advertised in your local newspaper. The ads invite you to come for a lunch or evening seminar … typically just an hour or two … on a topic like estate planning, retirement planning, or mutual fund investing. The seminar, sponsored by a local brokerage, financial planner, or other financial services firm, is free.

So how do they make money? By converting some of the attendees into paid clients for whom they manage money, prepare estate plans, or provide other financial services. This “give a free talk” strategy can work in many fields and venues. A consultant who specializes in small-business management and marketing, for example, might speak at a Chamber of Commerce lunch to promote his services and sign up local business owners as clients. You can speak at local association lunches and dinners … the YMCA or YMHA … high school and college adult-education programs … local libraries … trade shows and conferences … public seminars.

Why don’t more entrepreneurs use the “give a free talk” promotional strategy? One reason is that the idea of speaking in front of a group makes them nervous. We often hear about surveys showing the number one fear of Americans to be public speaking … ahead of fear of flying, heights (my particular bugaboo), snakes, or even death….

Now, I have been using the “give a free talk” strategy to promote myself as a freelance copywriter for more than two decades. And I’ve developed a technique that can help you deliver a superior presentation AND overcome your butterflies at the same time. It’s really simple – and you’ve already been doing it your whole life. It’s called “having a conversation with another person.”

You, along with virtually everyone else on the planet, are already an experienced and accomplished speaker. You speak all the time, every day, almost nonstop – to colleagues, coworkers, customers, supervisors, vendors, suppliers, friends, family, the clerk at the drugstore, the waiter at the restaurant – in one-to-one personal conversations. Having these conversations comes naturally. You don’t get nervous or scared. And the people you talk to listen and respond – for the most part.

Well, to become a good speaker, all you need to do is have the same kind of one-to-one conversation with your audience when you’re speaking in front of a group! When I am speaking to a group, I look into the audience as I begin talking, find one person who is looking back at me, and make eye contact. Then, I talk just to that one person … as if we are having a private, one-on-one conversation. I know that everyone else can hear us. But notice: I am not “giving a lecture” or “making a speech” … activities that the average person approaches with fear and trepidation. Instead, I am just having a conversation with one person.

After a minute, I break eye contact, find another person in the audience, and make eye contact with him. I repeat this process throughout my talk. So I am never staring out into a crowd, seeing an ocean of bodies … which can be intimidating. Instead, I am always having a conversation with one person.

The result? My fear and anxiety are totally gone. And my presentation is much more conversational and natural than a formal lecture or pontificating speech would be.

Here’s one other tip: NEVER bring your talk written out as a “speech” and read it word for word. Such presentations are stiff and boring. The listener knows you are reading a speech, and thinks, “This guy could have just e-mailed his talk to me as a PDF file … and I could have read it at home without bothering to make the trip here!” Instead, outline your talk in bullet form. You can write the bullets on index cards (for your eyes only). Or put the major points on PowerPoint slides and project them in front of the audience so they can follow along with you.

In my next article for ETR, I’ll tell you four more secrets for giving a great talk that will not only dazzle your audience, but also get them to trust you – and, ultimately, buy what you are selling.

(Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a popular Early to Rise columnist, self-made multi-millionaire, and the author of more than 60 books, including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing and The Copywriter’s Handbook. He is also the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing University: The Masters Edition – a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.)