Speaking is a whole different ball game than teaching a self-defense class, and it should be handled differently for maximum effectiveness. Here are my top 5 tips for SD instructors who are asked to give a speech…
#1: Identify the goal of the speech. Is it to inform? To inspire? To get the audience to sign up for a self-defense course? Begin with the end in mind, and work backwards from there. Sometimes I even write the goal on a little piece of paper and keep it in my pocket during the speech. If I start getting side-tracked, I remember what I wrote and bring the message back to the goal. It’s kinda like yoga class, when you set an intention before starting your practice.
#2: Mirror your audience to some degree. If they are teen girls, they may want a lighter approach, and address the safety issues affecting them (acquaintance rape, peer pressure, dating violence). If they are security professionals, they may want a more hard-core talk (workplace violence, academic studies on violence prevention). But don’t make assumptions about your audience. I highly recommend asking the contact organizing your speaking engagement about background on the audience before you take the mic. (Ideally days or weeks prior, so you can meditate on this.) What you learn may help when deciding which jokes to use, language to avoid, what outfit to wear, etc. Obviously you need to be authentic, and don’t want to be someone you’re not…but studies have shown that audiences connect to speakers who they can relate to.
#3: Honor the time commitment. There’s nothing worse than a speaker who is asked to talk for 15 minutes, and talks for an hour. It’s ignorant and rude, and you’ll totally lose the audience and offend the organizer. More is NOT better in this case.
#4: Have fun! A speech is different than a self-defense class. You gotta keep it light if you want people to connect with the message and take the next steps. Many instructors have incredible training, which can be intimidating to women with no experience. Coming across as too bad-ass could make the attendees walk away thinking, “She was awesome, but I could never do that…” Personally, I don’t find this to be a successful outcome if the goal is motivating women to become their own best protectors. Reminding yourself to have fun also helps calm nerves if you’re feeling jittery.
#5: Always end the speech with “next steps.” It’s such a shame when a great speaker does an excellent job and the audience is all fired up…but they give the people no instructions for how to take the next step. Decide what you can offer the audience and give them clear instructions on how to move forward. (Possible next steps could be: buy a book, take a class, attend a community event, etc.) Whatever you do, give them clear directions. If you can use PowerPoint and have a handout with these steps written out, even better. Many people are visual learners and need to SEE it.
I think having the skill of speaking publicly can only help our cause of ending violence against women. Ellen Snortland once told me the suffragists largely attribute the success of their campaign for a woman’s right to vote to the fact they went on speaking tours to cities across the US. Speaking up = change!