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Converting Public Speaking Opportunities into Strategic Communications Tools
By Mitchell Friedman   Printer Friendly Version

Delivering a speech is a powerful means of communicating information. Even in the Internet era, there's still no equal to the speech as a vehicle for sharing one's thoughts with a live audience. And there are no lack of issues in any professional's work that lend themselves to a talk at one of many available venues.

Carefully prepared, skillfully delivered presentations are critical for helping you and your organization achieve their fundamental business objectives. To fully realize this potential, you must elevate public speaking opportunities to central stage in your organization's overall communications strategy.

In other words, public speaking is a strategic communications tool. This statement means that:

  • Invitations to speak are evaluated based on the opportunities they offer the organization to communicate with key audiences. Invitations then are prioritized and assigned to appropriate individuals in your organization, or declined if they appear to offer little value.
  • Speaking opportunities are solicited before audiences upon whom the success of your organization depends.
  • You recognize that every speaking opportunity is different.
  • You recognize that every audience is different.
  • You commit to prepare and practice all presentations.

Let's take a closer look at the latter three points.

There is no presentation that you can develop and use at any occasion. Every speaking engagement is fundamentally different. One key difference concerns the situation in which you'll be speaking. You could be giving a stand-alone talk, or a presentation as part of a panel. The two situations require different types of preparation.

With stand-alone talks, you can focus solely on preparing and delivering your remarks. Other speeches at the same event don't directly determine what you say and how long you have to say it, although it's important to understand how your presentation fits into the overall event.

Panel presentations offer greater challenges because each speech must "fit" into a designated theme. An effective moderator ensures that individual presenters are familiar with each other's prepared remarks so their comments overlap as little as possible, and that each speaker remain within the allotted timeframe. Many people are not skilled moderators, so it's incumbent on the individual speakers to communicate with fellow panelists prior to the event.

The audience also makes every speech unique. Each audience has its own collective expectations, values, and experience in relation to the topic about which you are to speak. It's vital to incorporate this perspective into your remarks.

Studying materials on the organization sponsoring the event is worthwhile. Secure a list of attendees to determine if there will be familiar faces (friendly or unfriendly) in the crowd. Contact attendees before the speech to gauge their expectations.

You also need to prepare and practice your presentation well in advance of the actual event. Given what's resting on your talk, "winging it" won't work. More important, you want to make sure that the speech communicates your organization's business objectives clearly and succinctly, without appearing like a commercial. Input from other staff is helpful, especially when obtained far enough in advance of your talk to be effectively incorporated into it.

Preparation also is necessary for the question and answer session that follows a speech. You should:

  • Prepare answers to questions most likely to be asked. Include difficult, even controversial questions as well as straightforward ones. Rehearse your answers beforehand.
  • Answer questions succinctly, with one or two sentences. This approach allows you to respond to many questions. Depending on the number of hands raised, you can give longer answers to some questions.

This preparation will enable you to use the question and answer session to expand on key messages in your talk, while solidifying your standing in the eyes of the audience as a knowledgeable, skilled communicator.

Clearly, there's a lot more to public speaking that one might imagine. Experienced speakers understand this, and work hard to hone their skills. In so doing, these professionals have grasped what it means to use public speaking as a strategic communications tool.

(Copyright 2000 Mitchell Friedman This material cannot be copied on any medium without express written permission of Mitchell Friedman)

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