Eight Steps to Giving Your First Talk

  1. Join a Toastmasters Club near you. Toastmasters International has more than 16,800 clubs, most with about 20 members. Since meetings are held by Zoom these days, the club doesn’t even need to be nearby. You’ll meet friendly people and practice speaking in a supportive environment. It’s fun!
  2. Watch Dan’s videos on this website. Dan demonstrates a speaking style you can easily learn, and the videos give you material for your own talks.
  3. Outline your speech. DON’T WRITE A SPEECH. It’s too much work! And your style when writing is very different from your style when speaking: you give your audience a conversation, not a term paper.

On a sheet of paper or a 4 x 6 note card, write down six to eight bullet points – one for each topic you want to cover. Here’s a possible outline for a 15-minute talk, plus time for Q and A:

So here’s what your outline on a note card looks like:

  1. Practice your speech by yourself. Don’t try to memorize the speech – it’s too much work. Just imagine that you’re explaining Save American Democracy to a friend. Go bullet point by bullet point, and explain each one in 2-3 minutes of conversation.
    Practice this conversation three or four times. You will see that you don’t need to memorize your words – all you need to memorize is the sequence of ideas, the bullet points. When you get to each idea, the words will come, because you’ve explained each idea several times already. The exact wording you use will differ each time you speak, and that’s good! This way, your talk doesn’t sound canned – it’s an honest conversation, spoken from the heart.
  2. Practice with a friend. Run through your speech two or three times with a friend. Keep the note card with bullet points handy, but you probably won’t need it. Look your friend in the eye as you talk, as you would in any conversation. This practice will build your confidence and get you ready to speak to a larger group.
  3. Email headquarters. Tell us you’re getting ready. If we can, one of us will speak with you, and Dan will hold regular training sessions via Zoom, where you and other speakers can practice and share ideas. Write us at this email address [SAME ADDRESS AS FOR ADVOCATES] and put SPEAKERS BUREAU in all caps in the subject heading, so we know to give your messages top priority.
  4. Set up a Zoom meeting. Start with your friends, and ask ten or fifteen to sign up. Tell them it will be 35 minutes. (Zoom meetings should be shorter than talks in person: you don’t have a captive audience, and they have too many distractions.) Once you’re feeling more confident, reach out to local civic organizations. We’re focusing first on veterans, because patriotism is the heart of our message. If there’s a VFW or American Legion post nearby, please try them. Then go to Rotary or Kiwanis clubs, other civic groups, and churches, mosques and synagogues.
  5. Report back to headquarters. Tell us how people respond to your talks. You are our voice, and also our eyes and ears. Help us improve our message, avoid mistakes, and better reach different constituencies.

Once you’ve gotten a few talks under your belt, and have some references who can recommend you, consider charging a modest fee (an “honorarium”) for speaking. Most civic groups and religious congregations have a budget for speakers’ fees. Requesting an honorarium strengthens your credibility: you’re confident that you have something important to say, something people should pay to listen to. It is also a well-deserved reward for your efforts. Dan recommends you start by asking for $100, and later up your fee to $250 or $500, though you should always say that your fee is negotiable – some organizations have a limited budget, and the most important thing is to get the speaking engagement and spread our message.

After you’ve given a few talks, if you’d like to study the craft of public speaking and up your game, here are some books which Dan McMillan used to improve his speaking.  Please don’t feel that you have to read these books – giving your audiences an honest conversation about Democracy Dollars is more than enough of a contribution. Still, public speaking is interesting and fun, so you may enjoy these books:

Jeremy Donovan and Ryan Avery. Speaker, Leader, Champion: Succeed at Work Through the Power of Public Speaking. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014.

Carmine Gallo. Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. New York: St. Martin’s, 2014. Based on analysis of the best TED talks.

Andrii Sedniev. The Magic of Public Speaking. Published by Andrii Sedniev, 2012. Dan’s personal favorite.

No matter how much or how little speaking you do, be proud of yourself for being public-spirited and idealistic enough to dedicate time to a noble cause, to making America great again in the best sense of the word.

Ready to get started? Join this email list: members@saveamericandemocracypac.org.

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