The Rubber Chicken Circuit

The Rubber Chicken Circuit

Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd……Smiling” (Waters, Gilmour) Death.  Not for the faint of heart, then again maybe that’s exactly what it is. Peer Rejection. Depression can set in very quickly. Public Speaking? The first two don’t sound so bad after all.

What is it about public speaking that instills fear into the hearts of the bravest men? After all, most speakers are quite accomplished in their day-to-day lives. Accomplished enough, that they are considered and asked to speak before large audiences. So, what is it about the speaking on the Rubber Chicken Circuit that can derail the psyche of leaders?

Fear is the biggest handicap when it comes to public speaking, yet these presenters can be the most accomplished people on the planet. So, what instills fear in what many would consider some of the most accomplished businesspeople they may know? Well, public speaking is one of the most difficult tasks one can handle but when you dissect its components, it is much easier to navigate. So, let’s break it down:

Create Lasting Content: There is nothing worse than boring content in a speech. Oh wait, there is. Boring content delivered poorly is worse. Content is king in speeches. If the content is weak, it puts more pressure on the presenter to push poor content over the top. When that happens, it comes across contrived and misleading. Great content inspires the presenter (see practice below) to knock the ball out of the park. The presenter should have an enthusiasm that follows a “I can’t wait to present the next slide, it’s so good” mind set.

Develop Supporting Documents: A one-hour speech is filled with a series of tidbits and detailed content that is difficult for the audience to absorb in one swoop. Supporting a speech with manuals or takeaway items that allow the audience to “take you home with them” not only creates a longer-lasting impression, but can provide an additional revenue stream for the presenter. 

Practice Until It Hurts: Ah, the tough part. Great content begs the presenter to be well rehearsed without appearing to be rehearsed. There are no shortcuts here and the more your presentation can come across in a natural, relaxed tempo the better you will be perceived. I usually create slides with three bullets that are short and to the point and then ad lib (rehearsed of course) the “filler anecdotes” that paint the picture of the slide. One minute per slide keeps the attention of the audience as I naturally weave my stories throughout the presentation. It may appear “off the cuff” but it is very well practiced in advance.

Market Yourself: So, how do you find speaking engagements? Fish where the fish are biting. If you are an industry speaker, find the conventions and meetings in which your content is relevant. Pitch your speech well in advance – perhaps more than a year – in order to be considered. Have video at the ready, pricing, testimonials and references. Having killer content and delivery will cause a snowball effect throughout the industry in which you serve and referrals will roll in. The key to marketing is timing – knowing when convention schedules and agendas are created is critical to be added to the considered set.

Be “That Guy”: Don’t just speak, PRESENT! No one wants to sit through an hour speech watching the “presenter” read their PowerPoint slides bullet-by-bullet. It can be painful to watch and frustrating since the audience begins to read the slides faster than the presenter and they can’t seem to speed the speaker up! Entertain the crowd. Create nuances throughout your speech that capture their attention. Be a storyteller and by all means do not read your slides!

Public speaking can be a gift for some but can be learned by all. Where most people fail at public speaking is that they underestimate the amount of practice that is required in order to have their speech feel as though it is coming off the cuff. There is no substitute for knowing your material as well as knowing how to present it. Put in the time to effortlessly command your subject matter and enjoy the rubber chicken for years to come.

Note: The Rubber Chicken circuit loosely refers to the overcooked fowl served at conventions and events.

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John Matthews

John Matthews is the president and CEO of Gray Cat Enterprises and is responsible for the management of all consulting activities for the firm, which include retail consulting for multiunit operations; interim divisional or general management leadership; consumer marketing for companies launching products in the retail sector; and strategic project management. With more than 30 years of senior-level experience and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written Game-Changing Strategies for Retailers, which is available on Amazon. In addition, he has two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing for Retailers and How to Stage a Killer Grand Opening!, which are available at

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