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updated: 3/10/2014 9:36 AM

Good news: The speaker being introduced is you

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It's too late to wonder what you're doing on the speaker's side of the microphone: You've been introduced to the audience, which has responded with customarily polite applause. It's time to say something.

That's good news, though, because a speaking engagement -- even one you might have suggested to the program chair -- is a not-to-be-wasted opportunity to put yourself and your company in front of a gathering of potential customers, referrers and influencers.

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The better news is that Cyndi Maxey, a professional speaker, coach and author, and owner of Maxey Creative Inc., Chicago, is willing to share some thoughts on successful speech giving.

Some of Maxey's thoughts come from a conversation she and I had last month; others are excerpted from a recent book, "Fearless Facilitation," she co-authored with Kevin E. O'Connor, also a speaker-author-coach.

For Maxey, a successful presentation begins with the audience. "We don't think enough about the audience and why they're there," she says. "They're there because they're looking to be engaged. Think about why you're giving the speech, the unique value you bring."

Your speechmaking moment may be in a workshop at the annual industry convention; following lunch at the chamber meeting; in front of an MBA class as a guest lecturer at the local college; or as part of a group of business leaders brought together to hear your thoughts on quality control issues.

Your value as a presenter could relate to your business' reputation for outstanding customer service, your concerns about the future of the industry or your role as a nonprofit volunteer.

How many people are in the audience doesn't matter. "The people in the room are the right people" because they've chosen to come, Maxey says.

Maxey gets to know her audience beforehand. "Engage early and often," she and O'Connor write in their book: Meet and greet before the meeting. Talk with audience members during breaks.

"I walk into the audience," Maxey says of her presentation style. She engages listeners on those forays, too:

• Raise your hand if (you're tired of winter, for example).

• Do you know the person on your right? Say hello.

The idea, Maxey says, is to "break through the wall" that almost naturally exists between speaker and audience. Breaking through "makes the rest of the presentation easier."

The process works: Learn about the audience, which is there to hear what you have to say. Know your topic, which is why you're the speaker. Engage. Go for it.

Other tips, from the Maxey-O'Connor book:

• Don't read your slides, ever. In fact, when the room and audience size allow, "become the master of teaching with a flip chart or whiteboard" rather than a power point presentation.

• Never race through your material because you are short of time. At that stage, no one is listening anyway.

• Never finish late. You will not be forgiven.

• Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at Kendall Communications on Facebook. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com.

2014 Kendall Communications Inc.

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