Public Speaking: 6 Simple Tips for Success

October 1, 2011

A number of years ago, I was in a Board of Directors meeting when my boss unexpectedly called on me to report on the communications department. I had nothing prepared. Nevertheless, I stood and gave an update. After the meeting, my boss explained: “You always get nervous before presentations. I was confident you knew this information thoroughly, so I took a chance that you’d do better improvising. You wouldn’t have time to get nervous.” He was right.

I’m not recommending this approach for anyone, but it did teach me a good lesson, and I’m rarely nervous now before speeches or presentations. The lesson learned? Tip #1, below.

  1. Know your subject matter. Perhaps you’re already an expert, and that’s why you’re speaking. If you’re not, become an expert. This is a must for feeling and sounding confident.
  2. Know your audience, and prepare appropriately. If you’re speaking on IT, you will give a much different presentation to consumers who barely know how to use e-mail than you would to an audience of programmers.
  3. Write out your presentation. Even if it’s only a ten or fifteen minute speech, write out what you want to say beforehand. How many people have you heard speak where every sentence begins with “um” because they have to think about what to say while they’re up there in front of everyone.
  4. Practice, practice, practice. Some people memorize their speeches. Practice enough so that all you need do is glance down at your notes occasionally to stay on track. Memorize most of the speech, but leave enough room to improvise. This will make you look natural.
  5. Be confident. If you’ve followed all the steps above, you’ll come across knowledgeable, interesting, and relaxed.
  6. Enjoy yourself. Look at this as a positive, not a negative. The spotlight is on you, and this is your time to shine.

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Message Development — Know Your Audiences

October 28, 2010

Outreach strategies abound, especially given all the social media. To be successful in this economy, or any economy, your messages need to be focused on the audiences you are trying to reach and need to illustrate the critical reason for your existence.

Who are your members? Who are your customers? What do they want? What do they need? What will entice them to look your way initially? What will entice them to keep coming back?

Your members are the people who believe in your mission. If you run the Humane Society, your members are pet owners and pet lovers. If you work on civil rights, your members are those people who: a) have been affected by civil rights issues; b) know someone affected by civil rights issues; or c) have a passion for civil rights. These people are your primary audience.

Secondary audiences include funders, the media, partner groups with like-minded organizations, neighbors, officials and vendors. Internal audiences include your board and your staff.

If you’ve developed a relevant mission about which you are passionate, that is the foundation of all your messaging.

I’m a big believer in cutlines, aka slogans. Develop a short one-sentence slogan and include it in all your correspondence and message materials. For example: “Curing polio, one child at a time.” This is a part of branding your organization. When this slogan is on all your materials, your audiences know at one glance what you’re all about. They can also decide quickly if they are interested in reading more or being a part of your organization.

Put yourself in the mindset of your members. Why are they members of your organization? Why do they give you money or attend your functions? What do they care about?

Once you determine those answers, address those needs. Provide information on the things in which your members and potential members are interested. If you’re an environmental group, provide legislative updates and information about sites across the country, tell stories about how you are helping to save the environment, stress how your members are helping in this quest. Give them further resources, whether that’s blogs or links or books or other organizations.

Always include a call to action. Potential members as well as members want to know how they can help. Some people will just give money, and that’s fine. Other people will be interested in actually going out to a site to help with the cleanup, or maybe they can help with an event or passing out flyers or simply spreading the word. The more people feel engaged and a part of the cause, the more they will do.

Set up interactions, if possible. Invite people to your offices or to your events. Encourage participation in your blogs. Provide feedback forms. Try and set up a dialogue. Again, you want people to feel engaged.

Become the main information hub on anything and everything to do with your mission.


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