The Joy of Speaking
From Animal Rights Activism Articles Archive


Victoria Moran, Main Street Vegan
March 2012

A Presentation at Summerfest 2011

Presentation Skills

Be lively and energetic. Psych yourself up for the presentation. People pick up on who you are more than what you say.

You’re talking about health: do all you can to radiate health. Nobody’s perfect, but your words have more credence if you’re walking your talk.

Dress conservatively unless you know you have a very casual audience. Either way, you should be at least as professionally attired as your audience, or a bit more. There are exceptions (athletic clubs, yoga studios, speaking for children) but even here, you need to look pulled together. And bring a sweater or jacket: hotels and conference centers are notoriously frigid.

Wear color; if it’s a large auditorium, even wear sparkles. You may love NYC-black, but when you’re speaking you have to stand out. A large piece of jewelry or a bright scarf can be your friend here.

Write your own introduction. Email it to your host in advance and bring a hard copy.

Check out the space before you speak. How are the chairs set up? Can you change how things are arranged if you don’t like it? Will you need to use a mic? Do you have choices (wireless, headset, lavalier)? The point is: know what you’re getting into so when you actually speak, you can focus on speaking.

Get clear on the type of presentation you’re doing.

A keynote is the most formal presentation: it’s usually to a large group, sometimes after a meal. This is you speaking, minimal audience interaction if any, possibly q & a at the end if the group is not too large.

A workshop, seminar, or breakout session is less formal, usually for a smaller group, and audience participation, even breaking up into small groups for activities or discussion, is expected.

Be warm and friendly. Most audiences are warm and friendly, too, but even in the rare case of a hostile audience, your charm and genuine caring for the people you’re speaking to will save the day.

If you’re nervous, b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Do some breathing and meditation before you speak. Meet some of the audience members ahead of time so they won’t be intimidating and you can look for your new “friends” in the crowd. Remember: these people want you to do well; they want to enjoy you and learn something.

Be prepared. Showing up not knowing what you’re going to talk about is the way to guarantee stage fright. Have your points mapped out and know what they are.

Go over your points ahead of time, but don’t memorize a speech. Nothing is more boring than someone reciting a speech they wrote (other than reading a speech they wrote). This should be a conversation between you and the audience, even if, as in a keynote presentation, you’re the only one speaking.

Come up with one presentation and get very familiar with it, very good at it. You won’t get bored with it. You can add new stories, jokes, and facts to keep it fresh for years. Once you have that one down, add another if you wish. You may need only one basic presentation that you can give anywhere and customize to different groups:

  • Vegan Diet for Working People (for companies)
  • Vegan Diet for Busy Families (for schools, moms’ groups)
  • Vegan Diet for Sports & Fitness (teams, athletic clubs)
  • Vegan Diet & the Spiritual Life (churches, synagogues, ashrams and yoga centers)
  • Vegan Diet & the Golden Years (retirement centers, seniors’ groups)

It’s basically the same talk, just tweaked a bit for each audience.

When you present, make eye contact with one person at a time. It may feel as if you’re ignoring everyone else, but when you’re totally focused on one person, everyone feels the focus as if you were looking at them.

If you can, open with an anecdote from the past 36 hours. “A funny thing happened on the way here…” is often true. Alluding to something current in the news can also add freshness to your presentation.

Customize your comments when you can. Find out something about the CEO if you’re speaking for a company or the president if it’s an organization, and say something funny, but not disrespectful. Or allude to actual issues facing this group of people. Or compliment the people in some sincere way.

It’s standard to make just three points in a presentation. If you want to make more (and for the subject of animal rights or vegan lifestyle, you probably will), make a complimentary joke: “They tell you at Toastmasters to only make three points in a talk, but you guys are New Yorkers [or women or Methodists or whatever] and I know you can handle more.”

Tell stories. “Public speakers give speeches. Professional speakers weave stories together.” People remember your points when they’re packaged in a story.

Give people visual input by performing (movement, choreography, demonstration), or using visual aids (make a kale salad or a green smoothie and pass around samples; let people try high-protein hemp seeds and make a cannabis joke). Having PowerPoint, slides, or a flip-chart or dry-erase board involves the visual learners.

In a smaller, non-keynote presentation, include the audience in some physical activity. When you talk about yoga or exercise, have them do something, even in their seats. This gets you the kinesthetic learners, people who process information best when they’re moving. Music is an extra for auditory people, but some music is licensed so be careful in very large venues about what you use.

Choose audience helpers to call out the salient points

If you’re not using PowerPoint or pre-written pages on a flip-chart, enlist a few audience members prior to your talk to be your “prompters.”

For example, if you’re giving a general health talk and your points are (1) drink more water, (2) eat more greens, (3) get to bed by 10, (4) stretch in the morning, and (5) learn to meditate, you can give a 3x5 card with one of these written on it. You call out, “Who has my first card?” and so forth until you’ve covered all your points. This is a way to get prompted so you can speak without notes.

If you do use PowerPoint, bring back-up notes, especially if you’re using an onsite computer. Technical difficulties are very common when you’re not in charge of your own equipment.

Use self-deprecating humor. You want to be an authority but not an egotist. All (tasteful) humor is good. People love to laugh. Hone your skills by observing skillful comedians. Take a stand-up or improv course.

Listen to skillful speakers—politicians, preachers, recordings of the greats like Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King.

Never talk down to your audience. And keep them included. Especially in a small presentation or workshop setting, frequently say, “Am I right?...You’ve noticed that, too, right?...and, if there’s time for audience participation, “What do you think?”
Enjoy the q & a. If you don’t know an answer, say you don’t know; promise to research the question and get back to the person (if indeed you’re really willing to do that); and/or share on something related (this is what politicians do—the “spin”).

Stay within the time frame: If people want more of you, they can hire you for another talk or private consultations.

Collect people’s cards or get their email addresses by drawing for a gift.

Create product. When people hear you, they love you. They want a piece of you. Do a Top 10 List, a little ebook, a CD---something they can take with them, whether you’re selling these things or giving them away. You can have pens, key chains, etc., made cheaply with your contact info on them.

Practice with improvisation – if you’re brave, take an improve class. This is how you learn how to think (and talk) on your feet. If you’re in a veg group, you can get a small group together to practice these skills.

Getting the Gigs

Start with free informational seminars in your home. Invite friends (just two or three if your place is small) and ask each of them to bring a friend.

Look for groups that are looking for speakers. Church groups and senior centers are always looking for someone to talk at their weekly meetings. Rotaries, Kiwanis, Optimists and similar professional groups are, too, especially in suburban areas. Look for Meetup groups and other established groups or clubs with an interest in health, plant-based diets, yoga, etc., and volunteer your services to speak there.

When you’re going for bigger venues, you’ll need a hook—something to set you apart. What’s your special niche, special gift, special expertise?

Offer a seminar. Rent or borrow a space (dance or yoga studio, classroom, rehearsal space), hook up with a couple of people in complementary businesses (massage therapist, colon therapist, personal trainer, reflexologist, etc.) and offer a 2-hour evening seminar. With three or four of you marketing to your lists, you should get a decent turnout.

Find a chiropractor, day spa, or other business that will host your workshop and market it to their clientele.

Tag onto somebody else’s thing. If you know someone who’s speaking or doing a seminar, see if they’ll invite you up to introduce yourself and do a mini-presentation. You can still pass out cards/handouts.

Have a targeted, tantalizing topic and title. Don’t say, “I want to talk about turning your whole group vegetarian.” Say “I can speak on either “15 Ways to Fall in Love with Your Scale,” or “How to Have a Kid Who Never Gets Sick,” or “How to Eat 100% Better AND Save $100 a Month.”

If you get serious about speaking, there are bureaus that book speakers for paid presentations around the country.

Use your website, newsletter, blog, and social networking sites to invite people to your talks, teleseminars, etc. And if you announce colleagues’ events to your people, they’ll announce your events to theirs.

Do the same job for the seven elders at St. John’s Senior Center as you do for the 1,000-person $1,000 gig. One of those elders has a son or daughter who can book you to speak for 2,000 people for $2,000.

Radio and Teleseminars

Market yourself to Internet radio (they need guests) and small (to start with) terrestrial stations. Come up with a simple electronic press kit: short bio, picture (even though it’s radio, they want to know you’re gorgeous), short paragraph about what you can talk about, and 10 to 20 questions the host can ask you.
When you’re on a show, have three points you want to make and be sure you get them in. If your points are “Vegan foods are delicious; vegan foods are easy to prepare; a vegan diet can be a very economical way to eat,” put these in your question list. If the host doesn’t ask about them, use the “Yes, and…” technique, i.e., host says, h“Sugar is the real problem in the American diet,” and you say, “Yes: Americans eat way too much sugar, AND we’re also consuming too much animal protein.” This is instead of saying, “Sugar is nothing compared to meat.” You want to agree, and then continue.

You can take your time on radio, but don’t give a speech. With radio, you have only your voice to work with. If you go on and on (more than two minutes in most cases), you’ll lose people. Make this a conversation with the host.

Teleseminars are trickier if you’re the only one talking. It’s good to do teleseminars with another expert (i.e., you’re a holistic health counselor, he’s a personal trainer). A mix of voices and opinions makes things livelier and more interesting. When it’s just you, encourage class participation, even if it takes bribery (i.e., the first five people to ask a question get a 10% discount on the next teleseminar).

Use words to create pictures. This is always a good idea but on radio or on the phone when words are all you have, it’s vital. E.g.: “You want your green smoothie to be the color of Central Park in springtime, not the color of an army uniform.”

If you’re “selling” something – either a service, product, or event, even if there’s no money involved -- repeat your sales info. Don’t be insufferable, but with radio, people tune in mid-show, and teleseminar students may be washing dishes or coloring their hair while they’re muted on the line. It’s okay for you and the host combined to say two to three times in a 30-minute show, or three to four times in a 60-minute show, “If you email by midnight tonight, you’ll get a free whatever…”

TV and Online Video

Use basically the same electronic press kit to get TV that you used to get radio, but include a couple minutes of video. Producers want to see what they’re getting: if you’re good on camera and you have something fresh to say, you’ve got a shot.

Practice your technique in front of your webcam & keep at it till you’re really good.

Wear solid colors. The traditional rules have been: no black, white, red, or patterns. You can experiment, but you’re safest with solid pastels or jewel tones. (Don’t let that “no red” scare you: off-reds like cranberry can be stunning on camera.)

Keep your hair out of your face—from all sides. Use barrettes, a headband, or an out-of-your-face style even if it isn’t your regular do. People need to see your eyes.

Powder yourself to a matte finish; otherwise you’ll look greasy – this even applies to men. For women, wear a little—not a lot, but a little—more makeup on TV than you usually do. You want your eyes to pop, your lips to show up, and your face to have healthy color.

Practice with home video and critique yourself. Do your eyes move too much? That makes you look shifty. Do you move in your chair? That’s distracting. How’s your posture? The level of your voice? Practice makes pretty darned good.

TV and video are about the sound-bite. Your TV interview is likely to be 2 to 3 minutes, and your YouTube videos should be 2 minutes or less. Learn to get your points into snappy bites.

Be energetic, upbeat, and talk a little faster than usual, as long as you’re still speaking clearly and can be understood.

With TV, as with radio, get your points in, regardless of the host’s agenda. Remember “Yes, and…”

Don’t just talk there: do something! TV is a visual medium: bring props, something to demonstrate. On your YouTube creations, don’t just tell us, show us.

With an interviewer, look at him/her; when it’s just you, look at the camera. Flirt with the camera. Love the camera. Make eye contact with the camera—that’s your audience.

Time is short here, so your “sales pitch” has to be short and subtle. If you have an interviewer, she’ll ideally push what you’re selling so you don’t have to; if she doesn’t, jump in with it. For online video, give pure content and have your “ad” at the end, either as a visual or in someone else’s voice.

Create a unique and genuinely helpful YouTube channel. Give people content they’ll want to share with others.

And for all this: keep learning. Your pretty face and winning personality open the door, but it’s content—accurate, edgy, new (or stated to sound new) that will keep them coming back for more.

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