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Presenter Pitfalls to Avoid
By Chris King

At the beginning of each New Year, I take the time to re-evaluate what has worked and what hasn't worked in the past year. This gives me a chance, also, to plan ahead for the coming year(s), so that I am guaranteed direction and a plan for how to succeed - without making the same mistakes all over again. Even though I have mentioned some of these common pitfalls before, I thought that this would be the opportune time to help you avoid suffering from them this year. In this article I am going to highlight five of the most stunning mistakes that other speakers and/or I have made and learned from.

Don't spend time on a born-to-fail topic. Do some serious testing and checking before embracing a new and exciting idea for a topic. I've been there and know other speakers who have also fallen into this trap. You get an idea for a clever program that should appeal to a lot of people - or will it? Another speaker and I both had a similar idea. Give a presentation that used copies of art masterpieces as metaphors for motivational messages. How sophisticated and unique! It was appealing to us, but not to enough others to warrant the time and effort needed to create it.

"How do I test a topic?" you may be asking. One of the best ways I have found for testing is to offer a workshop or class with my proposed title and description of the topic in a continuing education catalog. Being a popular presenter for an adult continuing education center that sends catalogs to many, I have the freedom to propose new offerings. This gives me a chance to find out if the topic sounds interesting enough to fill up with students, and, if it does, how well it is received.

Don't speak for "free" except under unusual circumstances. When people know we are powerful presenters, they will call us with many requests for "free" presentations. They have no funds, but would love to give us exposure, and, of course, a free lunch or dinner. When we are first starting out, we do need the practice and the exposure. But once we are receiving money for speaking, it isn't fair to our clients if we charge them and don't charge others. The only times I would sanction speaking for no fee follow:

  • It is a brand new area and/or topic that you want to practice (for example, I have moved into technology topics recently).
  • You have made the decision to set aside two dates a year for donating a free presentation for a special cause. Be sure, however, to give the group an invoice with the amount that the presentation is worth, noting that this was a donation.
  • You are using the presentation as a tool for selling your services and/or products. Robert Middleton, my favorite marketing guru, does this with free workshops, which he records and then sells as cassettes. Many of the attendees also sign up for his teleseminars and coaching.

Don't negotiate fees. I know there are others who disagree with me on this point, but I stand firm. Set your fees with parameters that work for you. For example, I charge less for presentations made within easy driving distance of my home. I love it when I can present in the morning and plan something else for the afternoon. Do not waver, because, believe me, it will come back to haunt you. If one group hears that you charged another group a lot less, they will tell everyone they know not to ever hire you. The only acceptable way to negotiate is to agree to give two presentations at a conference for less than what the two would cost separately (in different locations).

Don't agree to tackle a topic for which you have little or no expertise. An acquaintance or an organization to which you may belong know that you have powerful presentation skills. They want a workshop on time management and ask you to give it. Now, you feel that you have good time management skills, but you have never spoken on this topic, and, truthfully, you aren't even interested in it. You could probably do a decent job - DON'T. First of all, you don't have any passion for the topic and that will be evident. Our audiences today are too clever to be fooled by a lack of authenticity. And even though the income might be a bonus, just consider the time you could be using for some other important area - like studying the latest information on the topics you do have passion for.

Don't waste your time and energy on written proposals or publicity packets. I have been asked several times this past year to send a written proposal and/or a publicity packet to be considered for a special series of workshops or presentations within companies. This may work for you, but I find that it doesn't do anything but eat up my valuable time and rob me of some self-esteem and self-confidence when I am turned down. Even though I know that I write well, I also know that I am a speaker. So, how can a group make a decision just on written materials alone? I have also discovered that if I don't have a chance to interact in person or have the decision maker come to one of my presentations, I am eliminated because of the level of my fees. I have learned to insist that we meet - even if only for a half an hour - to see if we would be a good fit (after all, I have to decide if I even want to work with them). I will then leave a publicity pack and send a written proposal, if I feel that this would benefit both of us.

By avoiding the above pitfalls, you will find that your good reputation will become an excellent reputation. That you will save a lot of wasted time and energy. And, that your presentation skills and professionalism will become more powerful than ever.

Have a powerful and successful New Year!

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