Back to “School” for Speakers!

Back to school for speakers

It’s back to school time for kids, but what about you? Are you taking intentional steps to improve your speaking skills, to start a speaking business or to grow your speaking business?

While there are excellent books on speaking skills and on building a speaking business (one of my favorite is World Class Speaking by Craig Valentine), nothing quite takes the place of a hands-on experience, with accountability built-in.

Here are three ways I have found to be personally effective in moving forward in speaking skills or in building a speaking business:

1. Toastmasters.  Toastmasters is a great value if you want regular practice in improving your speaking skills.  This world wide organization helps members improve their speaking (and leadership!) skills in a supportive, workshop-style environment with peer-to-peer feedback.  I joined a club more than 10 years ago, with no desire to be a professional speaker.  It was through the practice, feedback, encouragement and connections I made in Toastmasters that I decided to become a professional speaker.  I now belong to two clubs:  PowerTalk Toastmasters (for professional and aspiring professional speakers) and Humor Mill Toastmasters (a specialty club focusing on humor).

Annual cost: less than $100; Time Investment: weekly meetings, plus working on ocassional speeches, 1-2 hours a week

Benefits:  speaking skill development, confidence, leadership skills, networking

Sign-up: On-going  Click here to find a club

2. The National Speakers Association’s Local Chapter Speaker Academy (Minnesota Chapter Link).  The Speaker Academy program attracts people who are seriously considering becoming a professional speaker.  I participated in the program in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, before joining the association in 2012.  While there is some development on speaking skills, the focus is on developing a speaking business.  Being able to meet professional speakers at the Chapter meetings was a plus.

Annual cost: $1000-$2000 Time Investment: Monthly meetings plus homework, 4-8 hours a month.  Chapter meetings are an additional $350 to attend all.

Benefits:  business development, networking, speaking skill development,

Sign-up: Until Oct 6. Program runs Oct-May. Click here for more information

3. SpeakerBiz InstituteVitalia Bryn-Pundyk, a polished professional speaker, business owner and accomplished Toastmaster runs small group programs for aspiring professional speakers to help them develop speaking businesses, giving detailed steps and resources.  I took her signature program, the Expedition Course in 2011-2012.  She was instrumental in helping me take steps to get paid engagements.

Annual cost: $1000-$4000 Time Investment: Monthly classes plus homework, 6-12 hours a month.  Programs include generous Toastmaster benefits (payment of dues in a club of your choice and more)

Benefits:  extensive, personalized business development, networking, speaking skill development

Sign-up: Until early September. Program runs Sept-May. Click here for more information

Take action on your dreams.  Turn them into reality. Go back to “school” this fall.

Tailoring Your Presentation to the Audience


Even if you have a “canned” presentation, you will want to tailor it for each audience, to better connect and engage the participants, and to specifically address topics related to your presentation that the meeting planner deems important.

Through a discovery process of asking questions of the meeting planner and of conducting short, informational interviews over the phone with a few participants, you can find areas to tweak your presentation to make it a “home run.”

To illustrate a few ideas, I’ll use a recent presentation I gave to the Timberwolves Executive Leadership team, a small group of about 30 people.  My “canned” presentation was “The 4 Es of an Excellent Leader,” one in which the audience learns the why and how of using expectations, encouragement, empathy and empowerment to lead with excellence.

During the discovery process, a couple of important areas that I don’t address directly in my “canned” presentation were brought out:  having clear expectations and having a fun, engaging style of leadership.

I already had one audience activity that makes the experience a custom one for any audience–an appreciation exercise in which the audience members each think of one or two people they can thank in the next 24 hours.  They then have a couple of minutes to write a “thank you,” following my instructions on what constitutes a significant expression of appreciation.  After that, they partner to share their “thank yous.”  Following the partner activity, I call on a few volunteers to share their “thank yous.”  This activity is a favorite activity of audiences, and also one that is customized to each person’s own response to it.  As an aside, I have found that having people share their thoughts with another person, or with their tables, makes getting people to volunteer to speak much easier–they have had a chance to articulate their thoughts once already, which makes them more likely to share with the group.  Still, I usually have to prod a few volunteers, by asking “who at this table has a thank you to share?”

But, to at least touch on “engagement” and “clear expectations,” I modified the presentation in two main ways.

1.  I added a part near the beginning in which I addressed their corporate values and tied that in with engagement of the staff.  I found this information on their website.  For the first slide, I did it as a quiz.  The slide appeared with only the graphics.  I had the audience name each value before I showed the text next to the value.

Corporate Values-Timberwolves

Then, the next slide focused on only one value, “Play together,” which grew in size as the other values faded.


For the 3 slides after that, I was making the point that they had created great engagement and value with fans and can do the same with their entire organization, using excellent leadership.

Slide4 Slide5

This last slide, of a recent staff meeting, I found on the Twitter feed on their website:


2. Added a “Clear Expectations” section.  Later in the presentation, I added a brief section on “clear expectations.” In my standard presentation, I only talk about having positive expectations, but because having clear expectations was something they wanted me to address, I added a short activity followed by a brief “how-to.”

The first slide asks them to name an animal.  I don’t give any direction as to what kind of animal (except not a Lynx or a Timber wolf, their two branded teams).  I got a cacophony of answers.


So, then I transitioned to the next slide, saying. “Hmmm . . . I didn’t get the animal I wanted.  Let’s try that again.”


With the second slide, after the final bullet point appears and I count to 3, everyone shouts “elephant!”

Then I show the picture of the elephant, saying.  “Now, that’s what I had in mind.  I guess it helped to be clear on what I wanted.


After that, I talk about how to have clear expectations. This slide starts with an animation of the “eye” growing and the word “focus” appearing in the eye


For your next presentation using a “canned” presentation, consider how you can tweak it to make it even more meaningful to your audience.



Working with the Meeting Planner: The Pre-Program Questionnaire

Preprogram questionaire

If you want to hit a “home run” at a speaking event– to engage your audience and to please the meeting planner–start your preparation with a pre-program questionnaire.

Elements should include:

  • Contact person information, including a cell phone number
  • Meeting details: date, time, place, length of program, what’s before and after
  • Audience demographics (number in audience, sex, age, job responsibilities)
  • Contact information for informational interviews with a few audience members
  • Additional information you may need

A pre-program questionnaire does not take the place of a contract, but gives you the information you need to give a presentation that meets (and hopefully exceeds) the meeting planner’s expectations.

Click here to take a look at my pre-program questionnaire.  I’ll probably be revising it this fall, so if you have any suggestions for changes, please let me know!  Feel free to use any portion of it for your own pre-program questionnaire.

Get More Testimonials with LinkedIn (Ask for Recommendations!)

Get More Testimonials with LinkedIn

If you want to increase the likelihood of getting hired as a speaker, testimonials can make a difference!  Whether you are speaking for free or for fee, you can ask people to give you testimonials.  Video testimonials are great, when you can get them, but you can also use written testimonials.

I’ve found it highly effective to ask for testimonials via LinkedIn’s “Request a recommendation” system, rather than asking via email.  If a testimonial/recommendation is written through a LinkedIn request, then you can choose to have it appear on your LinkedIn profile, as well as use it elsewhere (website or print materials).

I would estimate that about 90 percent of my current 39 recommendations on LinkedIn were ones I solicited, sometimes after someone wrote a glowing email.  I thank them for their kind words in the email and let them know I would be asking them for a LinkedIn recommendation (including the words of their email, so they could just cut and paste).  I often suggest what they might comment on in my LinkedIn request.

Of course, this does mean you have to be connected with the person you want to write your recommendation.  So, remember to connect on LinkedIn with the meeting planner and others prior to the event!

Click here for written instructions on how to request a recommendation.

I also made a short video (2:37) that walks you through the process:

How to get speaker testimonials on LinkedIn

Below is a sample of an actual request for a recommendation that I made recently:

Dear Kirsten–

Thank you again, for the honor of speaking to your leadership team yesterday.  They were a very engaged group, especially when they did the “appreciation exercise”

I would greatly appreciate your writing a brief recommendation for my LinkedIn profile, from your perspective of being the meeting planner and also in the audience.

For example, you could address:

Ease of working with me

Audience engagement/reaction/significant takeaways

How you were personally impacted by my presentation

Thank you in advance for your recommendation; it will encourage other meeting planners to consider having me speak at their events!

-Diane Windingland

Remember, ask and you shall receive!