Have you ever thought of increasing your visibility and effectiveness as a communicator by developing as a speaker?

If not, you should. And there isn’t a minute to lose.

Not so long ago, the very thought of public speaking would have made me laugh or cry. Perhaps, at the same time. Just simply not in my DNA. I was like a high school classmate of my mother’s: The fellow routinely took an “F” in speech class.

My own performance in a college speech class is best forgotten. Wish I could.

Yet, for those who write, and for those who also cast a glance at the rising tide of technology, a speaking platform is more attractive all the time.

I would strongly recommend checking out the site of Michael Hyatt, former active chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers. Since stepping away from the day to day, Hyatt has quickly gone to the head of the line as a platform guru. His website – MichaelHyatt.com – and email updates are invaluable. His latest book, “Platform,” is one I’d suggest you get and absorb.

As I’ve said before and can’t say enough, your target audience (at first a publisher/editor) must know you exist and why your book/message matters. No longer can a writer sit in his house upon completing a manuscript and simply wait for the royalty checks to roll in. Today, one following that strategy will see the royalty checks trickle in, if there’s some luck involved.

One of the neat things about Hyatt’s site is the emphasis on free resources. Sure, he makes money at what he does – I’m a huge fan of capitalism – but he obviously has a heart for actually helping people, simply because he gives away a ton of free advice.

Take a recent entry, for example: a videotaped interview of author Lysa TerKeurst offering marketing tips. (Notice, too, the use of multimedia in the message. Hyatt and his friends make much use of video, podcasts, etc., in broadening their messages.)

Frankly, one can spend hour upon hour reading through Hyatt’s site and become fairly educated in the publishing game – everything from securing a book contract to blogging. Again, much of it is free! Take advantage of this opportunity, and the fact that Hyatt has amassed a wealth of publishing/writing knowledge in a long career. He is now enjoying the fruits of those labors as he “works” (I don’t know that he thinks of it as work) from lovely Nashville.

Back to public speaking. If the thought terrifies you, yet you are willing to at least think about trying it in order to enhance your message, let me offer this tip: Try making a presentation in front of friends and close family. We all have people in our lives who secretly intimidate us, even if we don’t show it. Develop, practice and polish a presentation that means something to you, then seek out opportunities to speak in front of a group. It could be five people or 50 people.

This is critical, because once you finish speaking in front of such a group, you can speak to anyone – and any number. After a short while, speaking to 15 people is no different than speaking to 1,500. Really. You are still employing the same techniques: speak clearly, logically and make eye contact around the room.

Once you conquer your fear of public speaking (and I believe you will), you are then ready to take it to the next step by polishing your approach. This is done more by trial-and-error than anything else.

A current hot topic among speakers/authors is the use of PowerPoint or similar software program designed to make presentations attractive. I know speakers who labor for weeks on one presentation and wind up incorporating a huge number of slides. It is debatable whether this is effective or not.

Personally, I poll folks who are part of my audiences. I like to know whether it worked or not. Develop some thick skin and be ruthless, even detached from your own performance, if possible. By this I mean, if someone says that you said “uh” too often, don’t pout. Make a conscious effort to never say it again, unless there’s a good reason. Then you’ve conquered another flaw in your presentation.

I am becoming more convinced that fewer slides in a PowerPoint are optimum. Again, Hyatt advocates using only perhaps 10 effective ones. Make them count. Make them compelling enough, but not overpowering. This is sometimes a balancing act.

You might have an image that is so powerful, the audience is no longer listening to you. Don’t do that! Though the temptation might be to use such an image, resist and think of the good of your overall presentation. It is much better to display a slide, take a few or several minutes speaking and let the slide subtly enhance your point. The audience is still seeing it, but not lingering enough that they are no longer aware whether you are speaking to them or a mannequin.

As with any endeavor, it is yours to do with as you see fit. If investing the time and resources – and your own mental and emotional health – is too much for you, stop doing it. Go find something else to do. There’s no shame in that.

But if you want to enhance whatever it is that grips you, make every effort to get better and better. Stretching oneself as a writer is nothing new; Twain and others were giving lectures before we were all a gleam in our great-great-grandfathers’ eyes. Those guys from yesteryear made handsome livings helping promote their books with public lecture tours.

It worked then. It works even better today.

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