Not ready for a keynote speech, big presentation, commencement address? Finding it hard to get booked for a speech or get on the program at a conference? No worries. If you're not ready for a prime-time slot as a speaker, but still want to get some practice, try these smaller stepping stones on your path toward public speaking:
- Ask a question when someone else is speaking. As an audience member asking a question, you have the goal of getting the speaker to speak more, rather than yourself. You can plan your question ahead of time, whether that's hours before or while the speaker's talk is happening. Stand up, ask it, sit down and listen. Easiest speaking role ever, but also a good way to stand out--albeit briefly--at a major presentation without having to give the talk yourself.
- Offer to be master of ceremonies or event chair: Unless you're Ellen DeGeneres hosting a major awards show, this tends to be the most scripted and brief role at an event. You'll open and welcome the group, make any housekeeping announcements, introduce presenters or speakers, thank them when they're done, perhaps note there's just time for one more question. This role offers great visibility without requiring a long talk, and you'll be thanked roundly if you limit your remarks and keep the trains running on time.
- Step up to moderating a panel: Does this sound similar to emcee or event chair? Not really. For one thing, moderators often are treated as one of the panel and remain up front during the panelists' presentations, so this role may be a more visible practice opportunity. Moderators often are chosen for their own depth of knowledge on a topic, as well as the ability to make those speakers stay on time. Take it a bit further to show your expertise by weaving in your own observations--but do so only briefly--when making a transition from one panelist to the next. "Joe has just shared with us the first steps you take in this process, and in my experience, those are formidable. Now I'd like to ask Ann to take us to the next level: How can you excel at these tasks and advance your career?" Also remember that moderators lead the question and answer session, so you can practice moving your eye contact around the room to call on people in all areas of the space. You also can take the moderator's prerogative to sum up several identical questions, pose a question to the audience to take some heat off the panelists, or simply guide the discussion.
- Be a panelist: Think of being a panelist as a shared-speaker role: You're only responsible for one-third (or less) of the talking. This takes extra preparation, and you should ask your moderator to organize a planning call with the other speakers, or at least a clear idea of the role she wants you to play. Panelists always wind up with Q&A sessions, and you should practice joining in an answer, or leaving others to the other panelists--there's no need for everyone on the podium to respond.
Have you tried any or all of these steps on the way to a full-length speech? Share your experiences in the comments. If not, try each of these steps and use them to get comfortable (and noticed) as a speaker.