Being a people person helps in my line of work. You see, I’m a public speaker, and as someone who has presented vegan talks in boardrooms and backyard barbecues, I’ve learned a few tricks to ensure my audience is engaged, their interest is held, and that my talk will (hopefully) guide the veg-curious to a plant-based lifestyle. Another thing I’ve learned is that when someone is given the opportunity to talk about veganism, there’s no room for error because you never know who’s listening. Based on my experience, here are eight things I consider before taking the vegan stage.
1. Know your audience
Start from a place of confidence when you prepare your talk. These are vegans (or aspiring vegans), and they’re looking to you for guidance, information, or entertainment regarding a plant-based diet. Take an informal poll with a show of hands to gauge the audience demographic, but don’t make the non-vegans feel uncomfortable. “With a show of hands, how many people here know the definition of ‘vegan?’” This type of question helps you to determine a rough number of vegans without necessarily singling out non-vegans.
2. 15-word summary
Summarize your idea into a maximum 15-word elevator pitch. Can’t break it down to 15 words? Then it’s too complicated for your audience. This one exercise will make your talk that much better by highlighting your point (and it also provides a blurb for the program). Remember that you’re promoting a diet or lifestyle, and keeping your talk focused will help convey the message of veganism even more by not going on tangents unrelated to your talk.
3. Start with a joke
If you’re Bruce Friedrich from Good Food Institute, starting with a joke is easy (he tells the same joke before every talk: “Did you hear Bill Gates bought The Seattle Times this morning? Yeah, he buys it every morning”). For those of us who long for variety, try this one: “Do you know why vegans don’t eat chickens? They contain eggs.” A good joke helps connect you to your audience, while a bad joke can be covered with, “Well, good thing I’m here to talk about going vegan and not to tell jokes.” Your talk should be entertaining and informative because, unlike an email or article, people expect some level of audience engagement or participation. Think about the best vegan memes you’ve seen, and work those into your talk.
4. Slow down
Nervous or excited speakers tend to talk too fast. To remedy this, slow your speech, and add pauses for emphasis. Every time you say “vegan,” for example, tap the air in front of you. This “visual punctuation” not only keeps you animated and interesting to watch but it also emphasizes your vegan message because you’re subliminally suggesting veganism through physical action. Also: worried about stage fright? Talk just over everyone’s heads to avoid possible awkward eye contact.
5. Avoid technology/don’t read
If at all possible, don’t rely on PowerPoint or Prezi to be effective. If slides add to your talk, keep them visually interesting with very little copy. Similarly, don’t read your speech. This is the toughest part of public speaking, but if you must have notes, try to consolidate your information into bullet points/key points of your talk. Think about it like a shopping list. You’re going to buy kale, quinoa, and tofu, but you don’t need to write what each of these items are because you know them off the top of your head. The one exception that allows for reading full paragraphs? Reading excerpts from your book (or other sources).
6. It’s all about stories
If your presentation is going to be long, explain your key points through short stories and anecdotes. Great speakers know how to use a story to create an emotional connection with the audience. You can always add your own “what being vegan means to me” to any talk. Your audience will likely relate to most of what you’re talking about because many of them might have experienced it themselves. Telling tales of the first time you pressed tofu can be both informative and entertaining and could act as a segue to other aspects of your talk.
7. Project your voice
Nothing is worse than a speaker you can’t hear. If you’re not given a microphone, don’t yell, but also don’t talk to the floor. You are the voice for the voiceless, which means the audience needs to hear you.