It is two hours before I speak to the National Hispanic Corporate Council on how to connect citizenship to corporate communications - and I'm sick to my stomach. There is no need for alarm. I speak in public often, and for better or for worse, this always seems to happen. Apparently, it's just nerves. No amount of preparation seems to calm my nerves, but it did get me thinking, what am I doing that is working? What could I do to improve my public speaking? I'm not the only one speaking more and more in public. Increasingly, corporate citizenship professionals are being asked to make the case for the work they do in boardrooms, town halls, and break rooms. Inside your company, much of the "low-hanging fruit" has been picked and the "usual" programs and campaigns are being squeezed or cut completely. In the community, your stakeholders are becoming increasingly knowledgeable, connected and demanding more transparency and accountability. When you present your corporate citizenship initiatives to executives and colleagues, how do you secure support? PowerPoint slides and executive summaries are needed to make the case, but the power of a persuasive, engaging presentation cannot be underestimated. With that in mind, I wanted to share my three tips for speaking and would welcome your top tips as well.
1. Research your audience
Nothing is more painful than sitting through a canned presentation. We all know you are phoning it in, so don't expect us to say yes to the request or support the cause. A little bit or research and thoughtfulness goes a long way and a quick visit to an organization's website or personal LinkedIn page can quickly uncover your hook as you present your corporate citizenship initiative. As Lynnette McIntire, a Teaching Fellow at the Center, notes in "Sustainability a CFO Can Love," even the more skeptical can be swayed if you can make a business case and appeal to "enlightened self-interest."
2. People want a discussion, not a lecture
I saw a meme floating around recently that stated something similar, and I couldn't agree more. The most engaging and effective speaking events I have been part of, the speaker has spoken to the slides he or she is presenting, not read them. He or she connected with the audience and gained support for his/her corporate citizenship initiative through interactions and audience participation and was comfortable wandering slightly from the script. At the very least, be sure to leave ample time for questions and answers. You do not have to expand on all of your bullet points in your prepared remarks. In fact, I would encourage you to keep two or three insightful comments that can be incorporated into your answers or closing remarks.
3. Take care of you
This might seem basic, but taking care of you is too often ignored. Staying up late to perfect your pitch does you no good if you are too exhausted to handle that 'curveball' question from the audience. A bit of caffeine an hour before speaking may be necessary, but the triple shot espresso, before your go on stage, is never a good idea. Be sure you are properly rested, fed, and watered before attending your speaking engagement. You'll be too busy swapping business cards, shaking hands with your new CEO or fixing the LCD clicker (didn't we just replace the batteries in these?). As I prepare for my next time in front of an audience, what top tips would you recommend to me?