On Wednesday, I was asked to present next week on the topic of public speaking. Because I am foolish and enjoy getting out of the office, I said yes.

Upon reflection, however, it occurs to me that I could use your help. But first, some background on this Change of Venue Friday.

The group I will address next Tuesday will be comprised of high school students. So right off the bat, you know that they will be attentive to the musings of a middle-aged magazine editor. (Here’s hoping they even know what print publications are.)

I have some confidence about my audience, though, having had the chance to meet their cohorts last year in something called the Asian LEAD Academy, hosted by ASU. You can read more about the program here.

And last July, I wrote about the group’s work putting on a mock trial at the Phoenix Municipal Court. They were terrific.

So I suspect these will be great kids. But delivering an hour-long program on public speaking? Hmmm.

Public speaking is one of those things I’ve done a lot, but never taught about. But maybe I can draw on some experience I had this past month. In early April, I was tapped to emcee a portion of a nonprofit organization’s annual banquet. That portion was actually a talent competition. The five participants were incredibly talented, and my job was to keep things moving and to encourage the audience to contribute (a lot of) money to the envelopes on their tables.

Opera has seen better days.

Somewhere in the days leading up to event, I came upon the foolhardy idea of including a goofy get-up in every one of my “bits” between the acts. I figured that I had to keep the audience engaged and reaching for their wallets. And what can be better after a world-class opera piece than me in a Brunhilde helmet? (Well, quite a bit, probably, but walk a mile in my shoes.)

John Travolta is retaining counsel as we speak.

So that was fun, and raised a lot of money for the nonprofit group. But that still leaves my list of public-speaking suggestions pretty Spartan. Tools, man, I need tools to recommend.

I would appreciate your thoughts:

  • What is your strongest piece of advice for someone who is hesitant to speak in front of a group?
  • What was your biggest obstacle to public speaking, and how did you overcome it?
  • What is your worst public speaking disaster story? And were you able to right that capsizing ship, or to learn something from the experience?

Thanks! I will report back on the lessons I shared with the high school group—and the lessons they inevitably will teach me.