12 Things I'd Do if I Had to Give a Speech With 60 Minutes Notice
Or, how to panic with grace
I’m not ready
Anyone who achieves success and contributes to others is eventually going to run into the need to speak on behalf of their knowledge, experience, and growing level of skill and authority. There are more platforms and speaking opportunities than ever, especially with the addition of digital events and meetings. When the time comes for you to talk, it’s very likely you’re going to feel that you don’t have enough time to prepare, regardless of how much time you actually have.
But you might be surprised by how much more confident you can feel about giving a presentation if you handle the key elements.
In anticipation of the moment when you’ll likely be asked to speak on short notice, here’s a list of what I’d do with my 60 minutes if someone tasked me with giving a presentation in an hour.
My 12-step program to panicking with grace in front of a crowd
Get Curious (5 minutes)
After you say “yes” to whoever has asked you to speak, ask as many questions as you can about the audience.
Who are they? Where do they come from? Are they young or old? Employed or unemployed? What concerns do they share? What problems are they facing?
If you’re being asked to speak, you will likely already know something about the audience and industry you’re about to face. But as a chosen speaker, it’s your right to ask questions. The answers you get from the host will get the conversation started in your own mind regarding who they are and what you can contribute. It will make you realize you’re not walking into a void—responsible for producing content out of thin air. The fact that like minded people are gathering in a room means that a conversation is already underway for this group. Your job is to help further that conversation.
Don’t be afraid to ask hard, pointed, or weird questions of your host. Look for issues with energy, whether they provoke controversy or enthusiasm. Dig. Be an investigative reporter. This is your chance to learn something about the crowd, the host, and the subject that might not have occurred to you. You’ll realize that you’re not responsible for carrying this presentation on your own, you’re just joining in and facilitating a conversation that’s already in progress.
Clarify the Aim (2 minutes)
Ask the organizer this question. “What would be the best thing that could result from my time with your audience? What would be the ideal outcome?”
That information can be tremendously helpful in structuring your focus for your presentation. When you’re trying to decide what to say and what not to say, let that desired outcome guide your decisions.
Find a story (5 minutes)
Now that you have an idea of the audience’s frame and the organizer’s desires, take a few minutes to think about any anecdotes or life experiences you can share that might relate to their circumstances, theme, or challenges. You might be surprised which life experiences pop into your mind as you’re free associating here, and even be tempted to dismiss what comes up as too messy, raw, revealing, embarrassing, or even recent. Trust the stories that get jogged in your memory and consider sharing them.
Keep in mind, of course, the setting and the crowd. I’m not suggesting you be inappropriate, indiscreet, or offensive, but most of us err on a side of caution that flattens our humanity rather than showing our authenticity.
Even if you wind up telling your story without being precisely sure how it relates, that’s okay. You’ll establish credibility, a bond, and a greater level of trust with the audience when you share your life experience. Conveying a mood can be just as important as delivering your content.
Prepare questions (3 minutes)
As you think through your intended remarks, you may start to doubt your authority to address the subject. You might see gaps in your understanding, confusion regarding some issues, or limits to your experience. Instead of getting rattled and attempting to ignore or sidestep these gaps, you can simply pose them to the audience.
Ask them what they think.
Let them educate you with their perspectives. Field comments regarding the issues that are coming up. You’ll learn more about your listeners and get them engaged as valued contributors to the conversation.
Make notecards (5 minutes)
You may not need them, but I often jot down an outline of things I want to cover, the stories I want to tell, a quote I might want to share, and a rough running order of my points as a backup, just in case I get stuck.
If it suits your style and you want a laugh, write your notes on your forearm, palm, or leg, and pull up your sleeves or pant leg if you need to remind yourself of what comes next.
Own the room (3 minutes)
This may hit some of you as being a little woo-woo, but when I’m scheduled to give a speaking presentation, I try to find a time when I can be alone in the room for a few minutes so I can connect with the space.
Space is this the first requirement of transformation. We have to have room to move, not necessarily physically, but in our thinking.
Humans who organize on behalf of a purpose require neutral territory where they can come together and consider new perspectives, listen to each other, ask questions, and explore new ways of being and thinking. A meeting room or conference center, as sterile as it can sometimes seem, is a space of opportunity—because you get to fill it with whatever you want. You set the context of the space and use it to create an impact that is of your design.
When I get in the room alone, I request permission to use its spaciousness on behalf of my intention, and I commit to serving that possibility. I imagine the room full of the people I’m about to serve, and I remind myself that, “This is my room— I’m in charge.” Because for the duration of your address, it is, and must be, if you’re going to be of real value to your audience.
Arrange the space (10 minutes)
Once you’ve established your connection to the room and the space, ask yourself, “Does this layout feel right?”
Do you like where you’re scheduled to stand, where the chairs are, where the entry doors are relative to the rest of the space?
The geomancy of a space and your position in it is not insignificant. Within reason, it’s your duty and obligation to optimize it to your liking. If you’re in a large meeting facility with many seats, making major adjustments will be prohibitive. But if you’re in a smaller room, you might be able to modify some details to optimize its function. For instance, if you’ve been set up at one end where the guests are also entering for the meeting, it means they’ll be walking in fully visible to the audience and perhaps have to cross in front of you to sit down. If you notice something like that, flip the room around.
If you don’t want to stand off to the side of the stage, move the lectern to the center. If you don’t want to stand behind a lectern, get rid of it.
There are loads of small tweaks, tips, and room adjustments I’d recommend paying attention to that will make your talk more successful—too many to convey here in this short article. But for now, trust your instincts, and make sure you feel good about your position in the space. If you don’t, change what you can.
Test your equipment (6 minutes)
This is very important. Test. Your. Equipment. Before the guests arrive.
Especially your sound and microphone. And then your laptop/projector connection if you’re using one. Make sure you can be seen. If there’s inconsistent lighting on stage, figure out where the hot spots are and stand there. Coordinate with the AV provider or team if there is one and leverage their help. Ask for the microphone to be on when you get to the stage so you don’t have to fiddle with that. Get them to hook you up to the projector. Test your sound levels. All in advance, if you can.
Prep water (1 minute)
This is an easy one. Just ask your host, or the banquet captain, for a bottle of water on stage. If you have to, get a glass of water for yourself and preset it.
Walking over to a table or the lectern to take a drink is an easy and seamless way to take a break, slow down, gather your thoughts, and soothe your nervous system if you start outpacing yourself or get scattered mid-presentation. Just don’t drink too much unless you have the bladder to match.
Exercise (10 minutes)
This is one of the most useful and important preparation steps for me. Physically moving.
Getting your body engaged and in motion before a presentation will ground you, help you improve blood flow to your brain, think more clearly, and de-escalate your limbic system if you’re feeling anxious. You can walk, run outside, or even hit the hotel gym if you have access to it. Stretching is good too, but strength training and cardio will best burn off the excess energy that can overwhelm your thinking just before a presentation.
Fast (0 minutes)
This takes no time at all, because it’s something you won’t be doing. Eating. You definitely don’t want to be distracted by your body trying to digest or eliminate food while you’re speaking.
Mingle (10 minutes)
A final hack I discovered to help ease into a presentation is greeting guests at the door. If individuals you already know are arriving, take a moment to connect with them. You’ll boost your confidence and comfort by connecting with friends. Make sure they know you’re speaking, and express how glad you are that they’re attending.
But also be sure to introduce yourself to a few new people. Explain that you’re the speaker, and ask them a couple of questions about why they’ve come, what they hope to gain, or what challenges they’re facing.
Just having made a personal introduction to a few folks in the room will establish a sense of psychological safety for you and for them. You’ll be able to focus on those faces in the crowd if you need to reinforce your connection. Referencing those individuals during your talk, and things you spoke about with them before the meeting, will set the tone for a conversational mood and put the rest of the crowd at ease.
I hope these tips were useful. If you have any questions about anything I’ve mentioned or how to proceed in specific use cases not represented, feel free to reach out to me personally with questions, or leave them in the comments.
This Week’s Events
I’m excited to announce this week’s events, which includes a Podium Day session on Saturday, and a new event that will recur each Thursday called 52V Club.
52V Club is a year-long challenge to upload one video a week to YouTube for the next year.
We’ll be focused on helping you with the content and delivery of your videos, either for a YouTube channel, a course, or any other use case that you’re facing with recorded video.
We’ll meet for an hour each week on Thursday to support each other with everything related to consistent posting to a YouTube channel.
I’ll be right in there, starting my own YouTube channel along with everybody else. We already have committed members with decent knowledge on the technical side of camera and studio setup, recording, and navigating the YouTube platform. I’ll be teaching and providing feedback on content, presence, and delivery.
What excites me about this initiative is having a tangible place to practice our speaking and storytelling.
Thursday Feb 1st, 10 am PST - 52V Club
This first introductory session will be open to all subscribers. Additional attendance will be a paid subscriber benefit.
This Thursday is our first launch session where we’ll introduce ourselves, share our plans and goals, and ask for the help we need to achieve them. We’ll be exploring the tools and best practices we need for video publishing success. No one’s a video expert. We’re an accountability group for consistent posting. But in this process, you will get coaching to improve your speaking skills immeasurably.
Saturday Feb 3rd, 9 am PST - Podium Day
Open to all subscribers
This Saturday’s speaking prompt is a follow up from last week’s session, where we decided to pay attention to opportunities for connecting with others, trying new things, or taking small risks that we’d ordinarily pass up. Bring your story of saying yes to a window of opportunity, or becoming aware of missing one.
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