Sunday, July 1, 2012

Three Things I Learned From A Recent Speaking Engagement

When I submitted a proposal in February to speak on DISC Personality Style at the School Discipline Conference put on by Youthlight, it seemed like a good idea. Since Youthlight carries one of the Wyatt books in their catalog, it would be an opportunity to promote my children’s books, continue practicing my speaking, and network with other educators.  At the time I had no idea I would be spending three weeks in June attending the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project Summer Institute and that the day I was scheduled to speak would be the last day of class.  Nevertheless, when the proposal was accepted, I revised my presentation, tweaked it for the expected audience, said a sad early good-bye to my fellow teachers in KMWPSI and showed up at 8:30 Friday morning to register for the conference. 

I have presented a similar breakout session for groups ranging in size from twenty to a hundred.  Although this was a big conference, I was anticipating being in a breakout room with seating for up to perhaps fifty.  I brought handouts for sixty and felt very prepared.  Imagine my surprise when I located the room where I was presenting and discovered that the “West Ballroom” seated 250-300!  I suddenly had a lot of concerns! First of all I didn’t have enough handouts and secondly my cozy personal interactive presentation would not work with a crowd of 300.  I tracked down the event planner and asked if she was sure there would be reason for such a large room.  She assured me that it had been full for other sessions earlier in the day.  Also, since there was not a keynote speaker scheduled at the same time as me, she felt confident the room would be full.  I moved into controlled panic mode.  Should I change the format of my presentation?  Find a place to make more copies?  Pray?  I did all of the above. 

My session was scheduled at 4:00, the last one of the day.  I had planned on spending my day attending other sessions, then around 3:00 reviewing my material and getting positioned to get in the room and set up. I attended one early session while I continued deciding what to do about my presentation.  Panic-stricken, I changed my plans about attending other sessions (so much for networking).  The rest of the day, I made more copies (there was a FedEx office in the hotel) at considerable expense and revised my approach to the presentation.  In order to be ready to set up my technology (there is 15 minutes between sessions to do this) I attended the session in the West Ballroom that was immediately before me even though it was on a topic I had no interest in whatsoever.  I took note of the fact that prior to the session the presenters took about 30 of the 300 chairs and formed a circle in the front of the room.  As people came in they asked them to sit in the circle.  Guess how many people attended their session?  About 30… I was starting to the get the idea that perhaps the event planner had no idea what she was talking about and my original presentation plans would work fine.  I reverted back to Plan A and sure enough I had about 20 participants which worked fine with my original plans.  The presentation went well and I even had one of the participants ask if would come to Florida to present it to her school!

Here’s what I learned from this experience:
1.  Communicate with event planners before the conference about details such as the number of participants, technology needs etc.  While this might not have helped me too much with this program, I would have at least known that the event planner had put me in a room with 300 CHAIRS!  This is generally something I do, but in this case I got so busy with other demands in my life, I never asked about the number of expected participants. 
2.  Event planners DON’T know everything.  My intuition was that since the time slot was 4:00, that attendance would be low.  As the last session of the day, this is often one that people skip out on to get to an early dinner.  I should have followed my intuition.
3.  Always have a Plan A and a Plan B.  I follow this advice in terms of technology.  In other words, I always make sure that if I am unable to use my powerpoint that the session will still stand on it’s own.  However I’d never applied this to the idea that the number of participants may vary so dramatically. 

Every time I speak, I learn something, change or improve something about my presentation.  What about you?  What would you add to my list of things you've learned from speaking to groups?  


  1. What an experience you had here, Lynne! In my teaching years, I never once had a problem with addressing the kids, but adults? I seriously need to work on a presentation to go along with my book . . .
    At least, I'm not afraid to stand up in front of a large group. I guess that's a start. :)
    Great post, as always!

  2. Martha, you have lots of valuable experience that will benefit you once you start promoting your book; teaching, leading worship etc. The key is not to worry about promoting or selling but instead to focus on how you can best help or reach those in attendance. Change in focus will calm nerves and insecurities! Blessings to you.

  3. Lynne - what an experience! Although I have not had the experience of speaking as you have - and especially not to large groups - I think the largest has been about 20 - I will remember what you shared! Great advice borne of experience.

  4. Lynne,
    If anyone could pull this off without a sweat, it would be you. So glad you had a wonderful turn-out and the experience helped everyone who wants to speak to be prepared for the unexpected whether good or bad.
    Really enjoyed this post!

  5. @Ann and @Kathy--thanks for stopping by with encouraging words!

  6. Lynne -- I'm taking good notes here! I attended Ken't Speak It Forward boot camp in May, but am currently focused on writing and editing projects, so I'm not yet actively seeking out speaking engagements. However, I definitely hope to do so in the future, so I'm collecting all the tidbits of advice and experience from those of you who are going before me! Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. @ Diane--thanks for stopping by! Kent's Speak It Forward BootCamp is definitely the best source of information on speaking ever. As I'm sure you know he covers everything! I've attended two of them myself.

  8. Lynne, a teachable moment if ever there was one! I found myself caught up in your dilemma and thinking, I’m glad that’s you and not me ;-) And now look what you learned from this life lesson which you’ve been able to pass along to others.

    I’ve coached public speaking for years, and always emphasize as much audience participation as possible. It’s the difference between keeping them alive and losing them!