People take it for granted that leaders have achieved some skill in public speaking. Yet anxiety persists because leaders face very challenging situations and have a great risk of embarrassment. Here are some tips for tempering those anxieties.
INTRODUCING A SPEAKER
When you introduce a speaker, answer three questions: 1) Why is this topic being addressed? 2) Why this speaker? and 3) Why now? For example, “Today the Federal Register calls for comments on proposed legislation to raise taxes on gasoline. Our guest speaker has worked in the industry for 10 years and is now legislative aide for Senator . . . .” Most professional speakers will provide an introduction for you which will answer the second question. Simply lead into it with the answers to the other questions.
READING FROM A SCRIPT
Does reading a speech from a lectern without a TelePrompTer make you feel like you are bobbing for apples? You raise your head and quickly sweep the audience with your eyes and then plunge back into the script. You know that eye contact is essential, yet you cannot risk a misstatement.
To get rid of that feeling, have your speech typed only on the top half of the page and place the page as high up on the lectern as is comfortable. That way you need only raise your eyes and not your head to look at the audience. The distance between audience and script is shorter so there is also less risk of losing your place.
Type your speech in large letters, double spaced. That way even in dim light you can easily read it. If time permits, read the speech aloud to yourself several times before you present it.
PRESENTING TO THE BOARD
Board presentations may be the most challenging public speaking you face. Usually the group is small, and you must be prepared to answer questions. You have certain advantages here:
First, you have an opportunity to prepare. You may not be the expert, but you will probably know more about the topic than the audience does.
Second, you either know the members of the board or have an opportunity to learn about them in advance by reading biographies or profiles.
Third, you know the outcome you seek. It may be a favorable decision by the board or simply a better understanding of an association or issue.
To help focus your message, define its purpose in one sentence before beginning to develop it. As you develop the content, select key points leading to the outcome you want. Anticipate questions by putting yourself in your audience’s situation. Some questions can be answered in the presentation and, therefore, will not need to be asked.
Have supporting information at your fingertips to expand on a point if requested. This will raise your comfort level and enhance your credibility with the board. It is best to know the board’s expectations before you finalize the presentation.
REHEARSING FOR SUCCESS
After the content and charts, if any, are to your satisfaction, rehearse your presentation a few times. Most charts will contain only key phrases and pictures or graphics, not complete sentences.
You may want to write a script to use during rehearsal but it is best not to read from a script during your presentation. Try mind-mapping, do an outline, or have a few notes at hand to reassure yourself.
Schedule some quiet time prior to your presentation and mentally rehearse. If you are nervous, take a few deep breaths, visualize yourself at your best, then give it all you’ve got!
There is no need to fear public speaking. Anyone can hone their skills with a little practice and mental preparation. If you prefer to hire a coach, we will be happy to provide that service. Understand your topic, learn all you can about your audience, decide what action you want your listeners to take, and motivate them to act!
Published in “Executive Update,” the magazine of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives.
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