Just a few months ago, an 8-year-old boy had a 2-year-old bike collecting dust in the garage. His mother’s efforts to get the boy to ride were met with much resistance. So many other things came more easily for him; he simply was not eager to try this challenging activity. His mother was convinced his first wheels would be those on a car.

The boy became more frustrated every time his mother encouraged him to try riding. She too began to get apprehensive. If he fell, the mishap was of course all her fault.

This went on until one day the mother came home from work to hear that the sitter and the boy had biked through the neighborhood all morning. Apparently the sitter hadn’t realized he couldn’t ride! That sitter went home with a raise, and the boy went out to ride around the block. By evening he was showing his mother how he could skid to a halt and lay down a solid line of black on the sidewalk. “Isn’t that awesome?” he asked her.

The boy’s mother was thrilled that the bike was finally getting used—and amazed when the boy summed up the day’s events at dinner. “Yeah, I don’t know what it was about today,” he told her, “but I did have on my lucky underwear.”

Imagine opening a speech with a story like that. As you were reading it, did you visualize the scene? Maybe a freckle-faced boy, a blue mountain bike, a mother bobbing and weaving behind? Your listeners will visualize it too. Did you smile or chuckle at the ending? So will they. And when they do, you will have made a connection with their hearts.

So why would I open a talk with a story like this? In one case my audience was a group of women struggling with weight loss and exercise compliance issues. I hoped the anecdote would be a strong launching point for convincing them that people sometimes just need to know that someone believes in them. The sitter never stopped to think that an 8-year-old might not be able to ride a bike. And he never told her. She believed he could, so he did.

I wanted the individuals in the audience to wonder what they might be able to accomplish with a personal trainer or a coach who believed in them. My message was simple: Surround yourself with people who believe in you even when you don’t. Find your own lucky underwear and use it until one day you find yourself without it but achieve success anyway.

Presentations to potential clients can serve as a valuable marketing tool for your business. But perhaps you are less than confident of your skills in this area. A speech or presentation is nothing less than a work of art, and nothing more than a way of sharing yourself. Weaving animated stories throughout your talk grabs hearts. Using an anecdote to make a point grabs heads. Sharing your personal experiences makes a speech your “thumbprint.” When you connect with people through both their heads and hearts with your one-of-a-kind storytelling, you strike gold.

There is no prerequisite for public speaking, but there is a demand for those who do it well. While you don’t need to get yourself in physical shape before flexing your presentation muscles, you may want to follow a presentation “prescription” as you prepare to share your knowledge, motivation and—most important—yourself with an audience.

Prescreening

Once you’ve booked a talk for a group, picked a date and received some direction for the presentation, you need to personalize your talk to ensure everyone in the room gets what they want out of it. Send a questionnaire or survey to all attendees, via e-mail if you can. (See “Audience Research Questionnaire,” right.) A meeting planner can often help you with this. If sending a survey is not possible, at least spend time with the meeting planner collecting demographics to get a feel for the individuals in the group.

This research gives you direction that will enable you to address, not only general fitness, but also the real obstacles and challenges important to the group. You will give your listeners the tailored solutions they want and need.

If you are asked to develop a topic, generate some questions to engage your audience from the beginning of your talk. Then keep it simple. Ask listeners what kinds of tasks their work requires them to perform all day. Find out what aches and pains or overuse syndromes they experience. For example, consider the working day of hairstylists: They perform repetitive movements within their workstations and often wear “bad” shoes (so they can look good) that cause back problems. A talk that focuses on job-related health risks, contributing factors and potential solutions will resonate with your audience.

Warm-Up

If time permits, you may choose to use an icebreaker to get things started. (See “Icebreakers” on page 23.) Your story, however, is your real warm-up. Where do you find stories? We all have them. You can tell someone else’s but then you have lost the one thing that makes you irreplaceable. Your personal experience allows you to describe details that appeal to the listeners’ senses because you were there. You don’t have to create the passion—you already have it.

Think about times in your life when you laughed out loud or cried tears of relief or joy—the memories that stick with you years later. Write them down. Find the ones that have a beginning and an ending and develop them into a powerful opening monologue.

The same story can be used to illustrate many different points. For example, in the opening story, I could have pointed out how the boy’s motivation to ride the bike had to be bigger than his fear of falling before he could succeed.

Techniques That Work

A Healthy Heart

The most animated and memorable talks are not those that simply relay information. As a fitness professional you have a lot of knowledge. But if you lack a way of organizing it into something new and exciting, you will miss an opportunity for a priceless kind of advertising. Even some of the brightest, most knowledgeable professors are not the best messengers.

Think of the teachers you’ve had. The ones you remember favorably probably moved around a lot, “talked” with their hands or used unconventional methods of getting your attention. They also undoubtedly infused emotion into their lectures, shared their personal experiences and talked to you as opposed to down to you. They were comfortable with themselves and did not appear fake or false.

Strength

Reinforce key points by illustrating them. Perhaps the survey you sent out revealed that the biggest obstacle for people in your audience is time management. You can simply tell them flat out that prioritizing is their problem. Or you can grab their attention by offering two tickets for an all-inclusive, 2-week trip to Hawaii and asking who wants to be in the drawing. How many hands do you think will go up? Then you can ask, puzzled, “When could you possibly find the time to go?” In this way you set the stage for segueing into a discussion of how we find the time for things that are important to us.

Flexibility

Advanced preparation, rehearsal and incredible timing all matter. Even so, there are tough audiences. Your goal may be to stretch them, but the attempt may stretch you first! Be willing to abandon your plan and go with a flow of questions, or do two icebreakers instead of one. Overprepare so you have plenty of material to improvise if necessary.

If you worry about filling the time allotted, give yourself an out. Ask each audience member to write down a question on a note card you provide. Indicate that you will answer as many questions as possible at the end of your talk. If you take a break halfway through, you can look over the questions and make sure you are covering areas that interest many people. If you find yourself in need of more content, you can literally select a few questions and respond to them.

Body Composition

As you read through your cue cards while preparing, ask yourself the purpose of every sentence. Does each one align with your objective for the talk? In personal training you don’t throw every exercise into a workout just because it’s good—it has to be good for that particular client. In public speaking the audience is the client.

Cut the fat. Make your statements lean and to the point. Leave the space around your key points empty so each point can be fully understood. Imagine starting a presentation with the statement, “People lie.” After delivering this attention-grabbing line, pause for a few moments. Let the audience have an edge-of-the-seat moment before you follow with more information. Or perhaps as your opener, you could pose the question, “Who believes there is nothing but success in your future?” Let the audience ponder that before you go on. A strong opener engages your listeners’ interest and gives you a better chance of reaching them with your message.

Also practice eliminating filler words, such as “um” or “like” from your delivery. Filler words can distract your audience. You may be thinking about what to say next, or perhaps you’re a bit uncomfortable with your newfound authority, but fight the temptation to talk every moment. Remember to pause. Give your information “white space” so your artful delivery can be appreciated.

You can learn a lot by watching good comedians and listening to effective speakers. They tend to talk more sparingly than less powerful performers. They do a subtle dance with the audience, then inject a pregnant pause where the message is born.

Cool-Down

A strong close is important to a sale, an article, a workout and definitely a speech. Here is where you deliver the value your audience will remember. Tie your ending into the prescreening and warm-up. Re-member that special populations require a longer warm-up and cool-down, and so might your audience. Still, you have options.

Finish with a directive: “Find your own lucky underwear. Surround yourself with people who believe you can, even when you yourself doubt it.”

Finish with a question: “What represents your lucky underwear? Do you think you can really manage time? Or is the answer in prioritizing your projects? What will it take for you to fear not doing it more than you fear doing it?”

Postworkout

Follow up with a survey or evaluation that you either leave at each person’s seat or e-mail right after the talk. (See “Audience Follow-Up Survey” on page 24.) A survey can provide added value to your presentation. Ultimately you might seek new clients from this speech, either directly or through referral.

What’s the one thing fitness professionals fail to do most often to improve their business? Ask for business! Don’t hesitate to ask for each person’s name and contact information. Provide a simple checklist to determine interest level. Give prospects some way to respond positively at every level of commitment. A person who doesn’t opt to train with you right now may contact you in the future or refer a relative or acquaintance. You can provide a constant reminder of your services by sending out a regular newsletter.

Requesting feedback enhances a potential customer’s commitment and loyalty. Asking listeners to think of something positive to say about your talk reinforces their satisfaction. You could request a quote to use as a testimonial, ask listeners to share the most valuable information they gleaned from your talk or ask what action they will take as a result of it.

Periodization

If a workout gets results, use it again! My story of the boy and his bike has been recycled many times over. In a presentation I gave on stress, the bicycle represented a source of stress for both mother and son. In the beginning, riding caused stress for the boy, and not riding caused stress for his mother. Then the situation shifted, and not riding became more stressful to the boy than just doing it. Later the mother’s stress elevated as the boy’s boundaries in the neighborhood expanded. The point on that occasion? There are different sources of stress for different people. What one person needs to thrive, another person may find impossible to tolerate.

Your own source of personal stories is endless. The angles from which you look at these stories offer countless variations. Use a good story again and again, but be sure you have a different audience each time. Later you may find it has become your trademark and people will start requesting your “lucky underwear” story!