Speaker Best Practices
Negotiations and arrangements
Set your fee schedule ahead of time. Decide when, how often, how much, and for whom you are willing to waive or discount your fee. Don’t be embarrassed to state what your fee schedule and policies are.
Ask your host whether he/she would like an invoice for your talk ahead of time.
Items to sell
If you have books or other items to sell, be clear as to whether you prefer to bring and sell them, or have your hosts purchase and sell them. It is not uncommon for a speaker who brings their own books to donate 10% of the profit (not gross) back to the group or organization.
If you travel 30 minutes or more by car, it is reasonable to expect to be compensated for your travel. Be clear about:
- Mileage reimbursement rates if you are driving
- Who will make and pay for reservations if you fly, take the train, etc.
- Whether you are comfortable staying in someone’s home or if you prefer a hotel
- Who will make and pay for hotel reservations if you stay in a hotel.
- Who will make travel and hotel reservations and how reimbursement works
- Reimbursement for food and other travel expenses
- Whether your host(s) will arrange a meal in your honor
- Any “down time” you might need
- Whether you would like to visit gardens or other sites while you are in town, and how that is to be arranged
Select a topic
Agree on a talk topic and title. Send your hosts a one-paragraph description of the talk, your technology needs, any need for tables or other items for your talk. When you send your host your talk information, include a brief bio, and a headshot.
Clarify how your talk will be promoted. Some groups are closed (they don’t welcome members of the public), so promotion is not an issue. However, if your host group welcomes the general public, ask how they will promote your appearance. What will the content of the promotional information be? When will it be released, where, how, and to whom? Arrange to review the information before it is released.
You have a role in promotions, too, through your website, other talks, on Facebook, etc.
Agree on how handouts will be handled. Some groups prefer you to bring the handouts, then submit a receipt for reimbursement. Others prefer you to send them the handout (typically via email) so they can make copies.
Occasionally, an organization has to cancel a speaker. If that happens cancels after you have made non-refundable travel accommodations, expect your hosts to cover those costs. If they cancel too late for you to fill the spot with another presentation, will you expect a portion of your speaking fee? Or are you fine foregoing it?
Track agreements and correspondence
Keep records of all your correspondence with your host venue and organizers.
If the organization doesn’t have a written agreement that spells out expectations and business arrangements, you might want to create one.
If you do not hear from your host a month before your talk, contact them to reconfirm the arrangement and expectations.
Prepare your talk
Ask the host to describe the audience in terms of their interests, knowledge, recent speakers, etc. That information will help you create a well-crafted, well-targeted talk. Even if you present a standard talk, customize it for each audience.
Every presentation should have a beginning, middle, and end. As your high school English teacher used to say, “tell em what you are going to tell them, tell em, then tell em what you told them.”
Your introductory comments should be only long enough to set your talk up. Keep it short and sweet so you can launch into the content as soon as possible.
Organize your talk into a logical, easy-to-follow sequence.
Humor goes a long way towards connecting with the audience. Do be careful, though, not to overdo it.
Plan for and speak only for the allotted amount of time. In case you run short of time, decide what can be cut without compromising your presentation. It is better to leave them wanting more, but not too much more.
The point of a handout is to give the audience something useful to go home with. It needn’t include all the content of your talk. Instead, it should recap the high points. For plant talks, be sure to list plant names so that the audience isn’t scrambling to write them down and miss what you have to say in the meantime.
- Make sure the handout follows the sequence of your talk
- Leave white space for the audience to make notes as they listen
- If you include contact information, your website, etc. on your handout, put that at the end of the handout
Presentations should support the talk, not to be the talk.
Talk about each slide, don’t talk from the slide or read the slide.
Avoid putting text on slides. If you must use text,
- Use no more than three lines
- Make sure that the typeface is large enough to be read from a distance
- Choose a combination of text and background colors that are easy to read (Bright yellow, for example, is hard to read no matter what color the background)
Transitions are especially critical. Know how you are going to move from one slide to the next, one section of the talk to the next.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Know what you are going to say. Use your notes only in an emergency.
Your “Talk Toolkit”
Experienced speakers carry a kit of supplies with them, including items such as:
- A small, battery powered LED reading light for dark rooms without podium lights. Take extra batteries
- Extra cables and connectors, especially if you use a Macintosh
Note: If you use a Macintosh computer, you need a special adapter to connect to a projector. Never assume that the venue will have the adapter, even if they provide the projector. Make it a policy to carry your own.
- A thumb drive (aka flash drive) in case you have to copy your presentation to another computer
- A laser pointer with extra batteries
- A battery powered remote control (with extra batteries) in case you have to stand a distance away from your computer. Several remotes have built-in laser pointers
- If your hosts are making handouts, send them the master copy well in advance. Check the handout when you arrive at the venue to be sure that they are done as you expected
Prepare for your talk
- Before you start talking, take some deep breaths – it helps to be as calm and relaxed as possible
- Arrive way ahead of time, especially if you are setting up technology or setting up a display table
- Know the sequence of the meeting or event and where in that sequence your talk will be. Some garden clubs, for example, hold their business meetings first, then the talk. The conscientious ones won’t expect you to sit through a business meeting before giving your talk… either way, know when to arrive to set up
- If you are giving a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation make sure the technology works before you start your talk
- Wear a collared shirt so there is a place to attach a lavaliere microphone
Present your talk and manage your audience
- Start your talk by thanking your hosts for inviting and hosting you
- Let the audience know whether you welcome questions during your talk, or prefer they hold the questions until the end. When they do ask questions, repeat the question aloud before you answer it
- Give audience permission to let you know if things are not working out, i.e. if they can’t hear you or can’t see the plants or images
- Set a good pace. Don’t race, don’t dawdle
- Keep an eye on the audience so you can gage how things are going
- Involve the audience in your talk. Ask them questions, share a few personal stories, especially a failure or two – that helps the audience connect with you
- Be gracious with the audience, even if some of their questions strike you as less than appropriate
- Allow plenty of time at the end for discussion
- Don’t go over your allotted time – at least not without asking the audience (and hosts) for their permission to do so. Give those that have to leave permission to leave whenever they need to
- Thank the audience at the end
- If you sell and sign books, have someone else collect money so that you can interact with the people
No matter how anxious or nervous you may feel, remember to SMILE!
Please feel free to contact us using the form on this page if you'd like to suggest an addition to our Best Practices!
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