Well, I wish I had a nickel for every time a client has shown up to work on a speech and not known these basic things:
- How long will I speaking? (20 minutes? 80 minutes?)
- Who’s in my audience? (people who support my idea? people who hate it? and how many of them?)
- What time of day will it be? (your audience will be in a very different mood at 10AM than at 5PM)
- What’s the rest of the program I’m part of? (am I the first speaker on this topic? the fifth?)
The answers to these questions, and many others, will help you craft the best possible speech, because…
You’re Never Just Speaking. You’re Always Speaking to SOMEBODY about SOMETHING.
That’s the bottom line. And you can’t do your best without knowing what “somebody” and “something” means in this particular case.
Even if the “invitation” is actually an order from your boss, you’ll need to know who you’re talking to.
So before you accept an invitation to speak — or as soon after you’ve accepted as possible! — try to get answers to the following questions:
- What are the date, time, place, and name of the event?
- What do you want me to talk about?
- How long do you want the speech to be?
- What would you like my speech to achieve?
- Can you send me an agenda, or describe the rest of the event?
- Who will introduce me? May I send what I’d like them to say?
- Who is my point person if I need more information? (Get contact info; this can be a lifesaver!)
- How many people will be there?
- What can you tell me about them (age, background, gender, occupation, whatever you think makes a difference)?
- What is their attitude toward my topic?
- Will they be able to ask questions?
- Will I be expected to mingle and socialize with them before or after I speak?
- Will there be a podium? Is it solid or see-through (lucite)?
- Will there be a screen and projector, if I want to bring slides?
- Will I have a microphone? What kind (lapel; hand-held; attached to the podium)?
- May I arrive early to walk the stage and get comfortable with the equipment?
- Who is in charge of making sure things go smoothly before and during my speech? (Get contact info; this, too, can be a lifesaver!)
And, of course, if you’re lucky enough to get paid for speaking, have the all-important fee negotiation during that first conversation, or—if you want some time to think about, or research, what you should charge—set up another conversation to address it.
Ask for Information as If You Need it NOW
Like many of my clients, I find it hard to ask for information when a speech is months away. (After all, you can ask for information as it gets closer, right?)
But here’s the problem with not asking for information immediately:
- The weeks, or even months, are going to fly by so fast it’ll make you dizzy; and
- There is never a better moment to get the facts than during that first conversation.
Face it, that’s the moment when you have maximum leverage. The person who wants you to speak will put some energy into answering your questions because they want to make sure you say yes.
Once you’ve agreed to the date, however, you’re just another item on their already over-crowded agenda. It may be harder, later on, to track them down or get information, let alone to negotiate terms.
So ask for information right away.
Book your speech — and then get to work on it!