Ever had one of those moments when someone asked you to speak at a function, you agreed, and then you panicked because you had no idea what you would speak on? If so, then you know what I'm talking about.
If you are a public speaker, most likely, you hang around other friends who are also public speakers. All of us are human and have unexpected things that happen out of our control - illnesses, accidents, loved ones with emergencies, etc. You may be asked to fill-in for a friend if an event cannot be canceled. Let's face it. If you're being asked to fill-in for someone, you may not have time to prepare as you would if asked weeks and months in advance. Would you be READY?
Below are a few tips to make sure you are ALWAYS ready.
Prepare speeches when you don't have to speak. This may sound crazy, but the moment you're driving down the road, listening to a podcast, or reading an article and an idea for a speaking topic pops into your head, write it down. Begin working on an outline immediately. Then start working on a PowerPoint presentation and get it ready. Save it in a Speaking folder somewhere on your computer. It doesn't matter that you don't have it scheduled for anything specific or a target audience in mind. What matters is that you have a collection of drafts for when you are scheduled to speak and you can modify it to your target audience when needed. This way you won't be starting from scratch. It takes the panic out of the guess work and the anxiety out of the lack of available time.
Learn how to make PowerPoint presentations sizzle, and include videos and slideshows when you don't need them. You probably learned in high school and college that visual aides are just as important in a presentation as the speech itself. Use them to keep your audience's attention and drive home your point. They shouldn't distract from your message, but enhance it. At the same time, you don't want to be using outdated media and technology. These days, a poster board won't cut it. Go ahead and create these visuals when you create your presentation or write your speech. It's much easier to find the perfect photo or video to convey a message when you have time to search properly than in 48 hours because you're filling in for someone.
Don't think you'll never be a replacement for someone else. As I discussed earlier, people get sick and have family emergencies all the time. Life happens. This is the perfect time for a new speaker to take advantage of this opportunity that they otherwise wouldn't have. Event coordinators know it will be harder to get a well-known speaker in an emergency. Their schedule will most likely be full. This is where you can be ready to make a difference.
Always update a speech or presentation. It doesn't matter if you spent hours and weeks going over your speech and fine-tuning it. After leaving it alone for weeks and even months, you'll come back with a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective that will help you make it better. Plus, each new audience may require a different angle or the changing times initiate you to target your message differently. If you included stats, you may need to update them. What have you learned since the time you originally created it? Updating a speech or presentation takes less time than thinking through and creating one from scratch. You'll still be ahead by taking this approach.
Find out the logistics. Will you be able to provide a Powerpoint presentation and use video equipment? Will you need to provide a DVD, CD, memory stick, or bring your laptop? If you cannot use any electronic equipment, find out the number of attendees and try to have copies available as handouts. If you don't want to carry them on the plane due to packing constraints, find out if you can ship the copies ahead. If you do this, be sure to bring one copy as a back up plan. You could always arrange to have Kinkos, Staples, or some other service company make copies once you arrive.
Brainstorming ideas for topics. If you don't know where to begin on choosing topics, think about your interests, hobbies, the kinds of articles you're prone to read. Research (Google) articles and speeches on these topics. You might find videos on speeches others have given. Take notes on what you like and dislike. From this strategy, you'll be able to start narrowing speech topics down and can begin working on a presentation, or outlining a series of presentations if the subject is broad enough with several subtopics.
Are any of these suggestions helpful? What other ways have you found to be ready when unexpected speaking opportunities arise?