[Lesson 3] Killing it with your first talk

Let’s agree that giving a speech and giving a talk are two very, very different things.

A speech is something you read off of a podium or from a tiny piece of paper in your visibly shaking hands.

A talk is exactly what it sounds like: you — the real you — sharing your knowledge through stories, emotion and movement.

A speech is rarely heard (since most people were checking their email through it) or remembered after the fact. A talk gets people engaged, thinking for themselves and sharing your talk online and offline.

As we learned in lesson 2, your audience just doesn’t care about you. They care about themselves. Your audience wants to hear you talk about something that’s beneficial to them.

The Business of Events

If you want to understand anyone’s motivations, follow the money.

With events, it’s pretty straightforward: they’re making money off of ticket sales and/or event sponsorships. Without great speakers on stage, it’s tough to sell tickets or lock up event sponsorships. Pretty simple, really.

This is your opportunity: appealing to the organizer’s audience gives them every incentive to want you on stage in some capacity.

On Getting Started

Last week, you pulled together the first version of your deck and put together a shortlist of events happening in your area and you’ve reached out to the organizers already. Good work.

As with any new relationship, warm introductions are the best. If you know someone that’s speaking at a particular event, ask them for an introduction to the event organizer. Pretty simple really.

If you don’t know anyone that can connect you with the organizer, it’s time for a cold email. First, I’d upload your slides to Slideshare — you can either publish the deck publicly or make it visible only to people that have the secret URL — either way is fine. Since you followed my advice from last week, you’ve applied a custom design of some sort to make your deck stand out. You’re looking pretty sharp.

Tip: The top left side of the slide header should always have your Twitter handle on it. If you’re speaking at a particular event, the top right side of the header should have the event’s hashtag.

Next, send a short email to the organizer — they’re extremely busy and everyone’s trying to get their attention, respect that fact. It’ll look a little something like this:

Subject line: Speaking opportunity at [event name]?

Hey [organizer’s name],

I’m excited about [event name] — thanks for putting it all together. I recently posted a couple slides (find them here: LINK) that your audience will find extremely fascinating. I’d love to present them (or a version of them) via a talk or panel opportunity.

What do you think?

[your email signature]

The reality is that you’ll need to send a couple of these out to get any hits — that’s why last week’s exercise encouraged you to look for events within a 100 mile radius. Cast the net wide, the first speaking slot is often the hardest. It’ll get easier. Again, the key is to appeal to the organizer’s audience.

Tip: Keynotes are easier than panels but panels are an easier way to get started. If you’re feeling unsure about your ability to give a talk, focus on joining an existing panel that the organizer is pulling together.

Practice Makes Perfect

This seems obvious but I’m constantly surprised at how many people think that “winging it” is a good idea. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are, there’s no substitute for giving the talk in a bathroom mirror or in your hotel room a couple days before the event.

The goal isn’t to memorize the talk, it’s to practice the flow between the slides. To practice your own body language. And to figure out how the first 3 minutes of the talk will go (which, in my opinion, is the most important part of any talk).

Tip: If you find yourself speaking too fast, you’re trying to cram in too much information. Keep a bottle of water with you and remember to drink it often, it’ll slow your speech down much more than you realize.

Your First Time

Just relax, you’ll do fine. Besides, everyone’s first time sucks. (Ahem.)

Most first-timers get worked up over nothing: they spend the first 5 minutes on stage trying to establish credibility (“I worked at [BIG NAME] and also did…”) — it’s a waste.The basic fact that you’re on the stage gives you all the credibility you need.Use that time, instead, to set the audience up for what they’re about to hear and anything else you want them to know.

For me, my opening lines generally look like this:

[walking out on stage, find my spot and pause while I look at the audience]

“[Organizer name], thanks so much for giving me an opportunity to be here today. It’s great to see all of you here as well — the caliber of people I’ve met here in the hallways is pretty awesome.

[Tip: time your movement and steps to coincide with the main point of your sentences.]

“OK, so a couple of ground rules: I want this to be interactive — if you have a question, just yell it out and we’ll figure it out together. If you think I’m full of shit, I hope you’ll blurt that out too and then I’ll figure out how to make you squirm uncomfortably. [BIG SMILE]”

“As [name of person that introduced you on to the stage] mentioned, my name is Paul Singh.”

[Switch to my second slide which has all the logos of companies I’ve worked for in the past].

“I won’t bore you with my life story but I’ve been working on hard problems in the areas of tech-enabled companies, venture capital and the cities of the future. In the next few minutes, I want to share some of the changes I’ve seen over the past few years, show you how I helped rebuild a city with all this information and then bring it back to ideas around how you might be able to apply this information — and these techniques — to your own towns, cities, states and countries.”

[That’s a lot to digest, pause for 3 seconds.]

“So, there’s a little bit of something for the founders, investors and everyone else in the room. Sound OK?”

[At this point, some audiences will agree verbally and you move to the next slide. If the audience doesn’t respond, I pause a bit longer and ask something along the lines of “OK, so I can’t read you from up here — is this stuff interesting? Do I suck?” 9 times out of 10, this gets the audience chuckling and re-engaged.]

[Start diving into the content.]

Tip: Before you head out on stage, start the audio recorder on your phone and stick it in your pocket. Bonus points if you have a friend in the audience that can record the talk for you. You’ll want to review this later, more on that below.

The key to starting your talk is to understand that the first minute sets the tone for you and for the audience. Start strong and you’ll finish strong. If you’re overwhelmed by the preparation, just focus on nailing the first minute and everything else will happen naturally.

A few other things

We’re going to learn more about tweaking and optimizing your talks in next week’s lesson but a couple of things you should know for your first talk:

  • Always ask for a lavalier mic. There’s no point in holding up a microphone that blocks your face, stick to lavaliers.

  • Avoid doing more than one public appearance in your hometown per quarter. No one’s a big deal in their hometown and, frankly, it’s far easier to get a slot on stage when you’re the expert coming in from another city.

  • A well-produced event will have a monitor that’s located at the front of the stage. This will only be visible to you and it allows you to see what’s being shown on the screens behind you. If you’ve got a monitor at your event, avoid turning your back to the audience at all costs.

  • When in doubt: stand up straight, pull your shoulders back, smile a lot and be OK with the silence. You’re the one they asked on stage, you’ve got nothing to prove.

OK, so now you’ve got the basics — let’s put them to work.

Exercise #1: Reach out to the event organizers on your list. Use my template above or use your own, just get it done. Your goal is to get on stage — anywhere — within the next 30 days. Deal?

Exercise #2: Record your first talk. Whether you’re practicing in the bathroom mirror or actually getting on stage tomorrow, record the audio (bonus points for video) and listen to it a few hours later. I’ll bet money that you’ll find a ton of things you could improve immediately.

Exercise #3: Send me the results of your efforts on the last two items. If you’re serious about doing the work, I’ll help you get ahead.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll learn how to tweak and iterate your talks. Get the exercises done and send them to me, all you have to do is hit ‘reply.’

Talk to you soon.


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