by Skip Cohen
I keep publishing variations of this same topic, but in spite of the number of times it's been out there, there are still thousands of you who are going to approach the concept the WRONG way and go into this completely unprepared. So, let's take it once again from the top...
Conventions like PPE in NewYork next month bring out hundreds of requests to be a speaker. Sadly, many photographers, all with good intentions, think they have earned the right to speak at a national convention, even with virtually no experience. That's not to say they don't mean well. They might not be a good speaker or even relevant, but I've seen so many photographers disappointed because PPE, WPPI or PPA won't jump at the chance to give them a program.
But the saddest situation is when a photographer gets a chance to speak and blows the opportunity to stimulate and motivate the people who have given him/her a chance to be heard. If you've been working hard to break into the world of public-speaking then consider some of the following examples of bad things to avoid and good things to include.
1) The Historian: Your life story is only relevant if your last name is Avedon! Spending 2-3 minutes talking about how you got started in photography is an important foundation to share, but the key is to keep it short and if it's just not relevant to teaching something, then don't bother. I've heard the comment more than just a few times over the years, "She spent the whole time telling us how she got started in the business!" or "He took up half the program telling us about his first jobs!"
And speaking of Richard Avedon, I did hear him talk about his early passion for photography. He took a negative of an image of his sister, taped it to his shoulder and then went to the beach to sit in the sun all day. The resulting sun burn was a contact print of his sister on his shoulder. Avedon could get away with a story like that, but even then it was only a few minutes and he wasn't teaching a class, but accepting the honor of opening his exhibit.
2) Death of a Salesman! Dustin Hoffman starred in the remake and Lee J Cobb was in the first movie, but you're on stage to teach, NOT sell. Nobody has an issue with all of the great DVDs and educational material on the market today, but you've been asked to teach a program, so keep the pitch to buy your DVDs off the stage.
Dean Collins was the best at selling his videos, because he didn't pitch them. He never even had them at his programs. He'd finish a presentation and then let everyone know the 800 number if they wanted more help. That was it - no pressure to buy! He sold thousands of videos by simply not pushing too hard.
3) 411-411-411! Give your attendees the information they came to hear. People attend programs because they want to learn something. They want to pick up an idea they can take back and apply. If you've accepted the challenge of teaching then you need to teach! As simplistic as that sounds, it's amazing how many people put out half of an idea or concept and assume the audience will figure out the rest. Or, they commit the ultimate sin and say, "We don't have time today to go into all the detail, but you'll find everything on my DVD at the table in the back!"
4) Practice what you preach! Take the time to read your own program description and make sure it's accurate. I know everybody is busy today, but so often a program description is written by somebody at the association or company you're speaking for and it doesn't match your program. Make sure your presentation matches everyone's expectations of the topic they came to hear.
5) Soft Sell Your Sponsors! Sponsorship is important, but talk with your sponsors in advance so all of you agree how to best position their products and services. Pitching your sponsors too hard from the podium will actually shut people off and it's rare people have actually made the choice to attend your program to hear about the products you use. Instead, look for ways to tie them into the images you're showing or the concepts you're talking about.
Tony Corbell, back in his Hasselblad days when we worked together, rarely ever mentioned Hasselblad or why it was such an incredible camera. Instead, every image he showed was photographed with Hasselblad and he'd talk about the lenses he used and why - that was more than enough to get the message across.
6) Practice Makes Perfect! My good buddy, Roberto Valenzuela talks about "Practice doesn't make perfect if you're practicing wrong. Only perfect practice makes perfect!" You need to practice your presentation over and over again to be an outstanding presenter. Years ago a photographer stepped up on stage and said, "Sorry for not having it together this morning, but we were out drinking way too late last night!" The presentation was horrible and it was years before he was given another chance to speak at WPPI.
The minute your name made it to the speaker list for the convention, people assumed you had the polish to present. It's all about instant credibility and you suddenly have it. Unfortunately, it only takes seconds to destroy the myth, if you're not prepared or nervous. In this case, practice does make perfect, in terms of being prepared.
Speaking at a convention or for that matter anywhere is an incredible honor and there are so many great speakers, topics and programs today. If public speaking is in your vision for the future, you might want to read my previous post.
Aspirations to be an instructor, especially in photography, takes a huge commitment of time, energy and creativity. It takes time away from your core business and it takes energy, dedication and patience. It's not for everybody, but just like working with your clients, the secret to success is exceeding expectations and making yourself habit-forming!
Photo Credit: My good buddy Carey Schumacher - after she stole the title during the BBQ Smackdown! LOL
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