Alexander Graham Bell famously said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” As a speaker, you may be asked to present at events you don’t know much about. In those cases, you need to ask a lot of questions before agreeing to speak. The following list will allow you to gather enough information to make a wise decision about whether to participate. And if you choose to speak, they will jump-start your process of preparation and set you up for success.
It’s important to research your audience before you commit to speak or start drafting a message. Forbes says, “Taking the time and care to consider their situation, analyze their needs and confront their particular problems not only shows that you are thoughtful, thorough and well-prepared, but also that you respect their time, their process and their context.” Consider asking:
- What does my audience already know about my topic?
- What does my audience need to know about my topic?
- Approximately how many people will be attending?
- What specifics can I discover about the gender, age, educational level, economic level, cultures, and values of my audience?
- How does my knowledge of my audience inform my presentation?
- Why are they coming to the event?
Knowing more about the event you are asked to present at will allow you to decipher whether the event goals line up with your personal goals. It allows both your “yes” and “no” to be informed and purposeful, protecting you from potential embarrassment and releasing you from guilt. Regarding the event, ask:
- What is the primary purpose of the event?
- What is the history of this event?
- What date and time is the event?
- Will there be other speakers? If so, find out how many, what order they will speak in, and who will be presenting before and after you.
- What is the schedule for the event?
- What organizations/sponsors are linked with the event?
- What type of marketing is being done to promote the event?
Information about the speaking venue is incredibly important. You always want to know the environment you’ll be walking into. Ask these questions about the venue:
- Where is the event being held?
- What is the approximate size and shape of the room I’ll be speaking in?
- Approximately how many seats are in the room and will the audience be seated behind tables or in open chairs?
- What is the set up the stage/speaking area in relation to the audience (close or far, above or at the same level, open or blocked)?
- Will there be a lecturn or table available for my notes/water/props?
- What technology will be available in the room?
- Is the lighting adjustable?
- Will I be using a microphone?
Questions about your needs and what is expected of you are often uncomfortable, but they are crucial. They can protect you from difficult situations down the road or the day of your presentation. These questions preserve speaker/client relationships and help you avoid regretting the choice you made.
- Why was I asked to speak?
- What time am I expected to show up?
- How much time will I be expected to fill?
- Will I be expected to answer audience questions after the event?
- Will I be remunerated for speaking at the event? If so, how much, and in what form and when will I be paid?
- Is there anything I need to bring with me?
- What is the expected dress for a speaker at the event?
- If you already know the topic of your presentation, ask: Has anyone presented on this topic or a similar topic at this event in the past? If so, get more information about that instance.
Your success as a speaker begins with asking the right questions. Hopefully you’ll find this list helpful the next time you are asked to present, and you’ll feel confident in both your decision and preparation.
For more ways to prepare yourself for speaking success, check out our online presentation skills class.