You’re sitting at your desk one day, basking in the glory of your company being named one of the “Best Places to Work in Mississippi” by the Mississippi Business Journal. Your pride is still swelling as the phone rings. The caller identifies himself and asks if you would be willing to come to his civic club in two weeks and tell how your company achieved such an honor. Your heart races all of a sudden because you have never made a speech to a civic club or any public group for that matter. The mere thought of it causes a brief panic. What would you do?
The first thing to do quickly consider your alternatives. You could say no, but that would not shed a favorable light on you and your company. You could say that you are busy and that you would be able to come at a later date. That would give you time to rehearse and learn more about public speaking. You could send someone else in the company, but your company is small and there is no one else. Besides, it was your photo that was used in the publicity. Or, you could accept the invitation.
Most business people do not speak to public groups. And they are not alone. It is no wonder. Fear of public speaking, which is known as glossophobia, affects 74% of the U.S. population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It ranks as one of the top fears.
So what should you do? You should probably accept the invitation. It will be good for you and your company. However, it will not be so good for you and your company if you make a fool of yourself and embarrass yourself and your company. Therefore, instead of trying to learn to be a great public speaker in two weeks consider some alternatives that will help you get through the speech and educate and inform your audience about your company and how it came to be one of the best places to work. After all, that’s what the audience wants to her. Below are several things you might want to consider.
There are hundreds of resources on the subject of how to speak in public. They tell you basically to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them. Forget that advice. You can learn to be a great speaker later. Right now you are just trying to get through your first speech.
First, even though you emailed a copy of your bio beforehand, make certain to carry a copy of your introduction in case you need to give it to the person who will introduce you. Your introduction should be brief and establish your credibility as someone who has something to say. Don’t assume that the audience knows as much about you as the person who invited you.
Open with a bang. Do not say that you are proud to be here and thank you. The first words out of your mouth should be compelling and make the audience want to hear more. For example, “There are more than 52,000 small businesses in Mississippi that have employees. Today, I’ll share with you five things that our small business does to be named one of the best places to work.”
Show a video. If you have a brief video about your company go ahead and use it. That way you do not have to be speaking. Just make certain that the sound and sight have been tested at the place you are speaking. Technology failure can kill a good presentation.
PowerPoint and similar presentation tools have been panned as overused and ineffective. However, when used properly, i.e. with good graphics and just a few words, it can be an asset. For the first time speaker it can be a good way to take the focus off the speaker and provide the speaker with speaking notes.
Engage the audience. Instead of standing behind the podium and talking, have the audience participate in some type of exercise. For example, ask each group at each table to take just a few minutes to name a good company to work for and one thing that company did to make it such a good place to work. Then have each table select one of the companies mentioned and its trait. Go around the room and have someone report. You will then have only a few minutes left to make your speech and you will be feeling more comfortable by then. Think of other ways to engage the audience. It will take the pressure off you.
Tell your story. Use a personal anecdote. Allow your audience to identify with you. One way to begin your story is to simply say, “Once upon a time…”
Rehearse your speech. This is important, but what first-time speakers discover is that the speech that took 20 minutes in rehearsal took only six minutes when they got behind a podium.
Your audience will remember you by your opening and your close. Make your close positive and uplifting. Consider an appropriate poem or quote.
These comments are about props and crutches to help you get through your first speech. They are not tips on how to make a great speech. There are plenty of websites on that subject. If, after your speech, you felt that you want to learn more about public speaking there is no better place than a local Toastmasters Club (go to www.toastmasters.org).
Break a leg.