Some people fear public speaking more than death, but with the right preparation, most people can give a compelling presentation. I’ve been doing public speaking for more than two decades. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.

Organize Your Tools

Before you even show up, you need to organize yourself and gather up your support items. This typically includes:

o a 25- to 175-word introduction

o a sign-in sheet for expected guests

o presentation notes

o props, books, magazine articles, etc.

o a clock / timer

o a bell to ring to get people’s attention.

It is important that you prepare these things. I put together a package of all these materials so that they’re ready to go whenever I have a speaking gig.

Set Up the Room Properly

Room setup makes a vast difference in terms of the energy and the impact of your presentation. If you have a large room, it is common for the people who arrive early to sit in the back or middle of the room, as if they’re afraid you’ll be smashing watermelons on stage. But this creates an energy void between you and your audience. For effective communication, you want to get people to sit as close to the front of the room as possible. You can arrange this by taping off back rows with masking tape. This will force people to sit up front.

In terms of your screen setup, it’s best to put the screen in the corner of the front of the room at a 45-degree angle. That allows you to walk back and forth across the entire front of the room without having the projector light shine in your eyes. Also, use a projector that is bright enough that you do not have to turn the lights down. I have watched after-lunch speakers turn the lights down, show a lot of detailed PowerPoint slides, and put the audience to sleep. Keep the lights up.

Put a small table in front of the room to hold your projector, handout materials, evaluations, a clock/timer, and a glass of room temperature water (room temperature because cold water will restrict your vocal cords and make it harder for you to speak).

Typically, for any audience of more than 25 people, you are better off using a wireless Lavaliere microphone. This gives you more control over the audience and saves your voice if you are doing a long workshop. It also guarantees that people with diminished hearing will be able to hear you.

Before you start, assign one person to manage the room temperature and any distractions so that you as the speaker do not have to take care of these things. A number of times during my speaking engagements over last 20 years, alarms have gone off, and it has been very helpful to be able to send someone else out to find out what is going on. Without the designated person, you will end up doing these things yourself.

Right before you start speaking, check your appearance in a well-lighted mirror. Make sure your hair is combed correctly, that you do not have any food around your mouth, and that your clothes look good.

Start Strong

Your first impression is critical. Have someone read your formal introduction. This should take less than a minute and put a halo around your head. Do not make it a litany of all your credentials, but rather a short, punchy introduction regarding what makes you an authority on the subject and how your audience will benefit from your presentation.

When you take the stage, start with a concise statement of what your audience will gain from your talk. I like to get the audience involved at the very beginning by asking a question.

Tell them you would like their commitment that they will participate fully and that they will complete the exercises and fill in the workbook blanks. Ask them for a commitment that they will help you by completing the evaluations at the end of your presentation.

The Presentation

Make it a conversation, not a performance. The highest paid speakers engage their audience in a two-way interaction, not a one-way monologue. Touch their hearts with personal stories. Make sure you are appealing to all of the senses and get them experiencing as well as thinking about your presentation. Remember, your PowerPoint slides are simply the skeleton. You have to flesh the content out and make it real with human stories and case studies. You should use a lot of analogies and metaphors. Use ones that are powerful to you and familiar to the audience. Think of the Bible: Jesus spoke mostly in metaphors, and many of his stories were about sheepherding because sheepherding was a very common activity during Jesus’s time.

Tell personal stories to reveal who you are. Stories about your family or your upbringing create a vulnerability that makes audiences like you. Know-it-all speakers who do not open themselves up to the audience appear arrogant, and therefore do not invite a meaningful relationship.

Stay on track and do not try to tell them all you know. Remember, your goal is not to do a “data dump,” but rather to bond with interested audience members and inspire them to action.

Be aware that the messenger is as important as the message. You are the presentation. So never let your slide show, your multimedia, or your props get in the way of a clear and heartfelt communication between you and your audience.

Also, make it clear why you as a financial advisor are doing this presentation. If your intention is to invite people in for a free meeting, you do not want to hide that but rather state that as your goal, and tell them that they should evaluate your presentation with the intention of determining if what you are discussing could benefit them.

Be energetic: Speakers who show energy for their subject and involve the audience’s emotions get much better evaluations than speakers who are technically good but are not enthusiastic about their topic. And remember, people can think faster than most people speak, so if you speak slowly, you will lose them. Speaking quickly and loudly communicates enthusiasm.

Don’t just read your notes–it is the kiss of death for a presentation. You need to know your presentation well enough that you can use the bullet points as a guide rather than as a crutch. As you are doing your presentation, look into the eyes of each audience member in the first couple of rows for three to six seconds each, complete a thought, and move on.

Wrapping Up

As you wrap up, thank your audience for allowing you to share your passions and your vision with them. Ask them to raise their hands if they felt they got something of value from the presentation.

Then remind them that they agreed to complete the evaluations to help you improve. My evaluations always have a way for my audience to let me know if they want me to follow-up with them: (1) “Please contact me immediately,” (2) “Please contact me after _______ date”, (3) “Please put me on your newsletter for future events, and (4) “Please do not contact me.” Give them the specific benefits of taking the next step. For instance, if they check “please contact me,” they’ll receive a free complimentary meeting where you will evaluate their current situation and give them recommendations on how you can help them. Explain that you can’t help everyone and explain clearly who could benefit most from taking this next step. Often in an audience of 100 people, you will only connect with two or three, but your connection with those few can be very powerful. And be sure to tell them exactly what to do if they want to take the next step. Say something like, “On the yellow form, put your name and phone number and check ‘Please call me.’”

If you provide information that is of broad interest to your audiences, you will find opportunities to get out and speak and share that information. Remember that the most effective communication comes from the heart. Emotions are what drive people to action.

So relax, be authentic, and have fun. And most importantly, recognize that as a speaker you are a powerful agent for positive transformation, and you have services that can bring more happiness and fulfillment to your clients. So get out there and “Break a leg!”

Steve Moeller is president of American Business Visions and author of Effort-Less Marketing for Financial Advisors. Call American Business Visions at 800-678-1701, or visit www.businessvisions.com.