Guest post by James McBryan
Public speaking — yikes! That’s how I used to feel, too. However, I pushed myself to get in front of audiences because I was determined to overcome the discomfort. Each time I felt unprepared, and I squirmed and sputtered. Often, I did a really bad job. But now, after practicing public speaking for 15 years, I can say for a fact that I’m glad I did each one of those presentations. Those experiences have added a whole new dimension to volunteer engagement and nonprofit leadership that I would’ve never expected.
The opportunities that a public speaking gig can provide are monumental. In the nonprofit world, the work we do is so meaningful that we often show excitement and passion while public speaking, and it is natural and genuine and can bring people to our cause. Below are three crucial opportunities that I discovered I would’ve missed out on if I hadn’t practiced and honed my public speaking skills.
- Rallying and Inspiring the Troops
This is, by far, my favorite thing to do. It could be at the beginning or end of a meeting, or in the middle of an event. Wherever there’s a stage, you can persuade people to feel connected to your cause. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic Hollywood speech, but something that verbalizes everyone’s thoughts. Add in humor, be a little cheesy, even be dramatic, but by all means, let your passion shine and don’t be afraid to paint a bigger picture. You can be the one to inspire people to join your cause, get excited, feel revitalized, dream of the future, and make an impact.
For example, I gave a talk last week to a dance club I started 10 years ago. During the presentation, I showcased some fun photos and videos of how we used to dance back in the days and how goofy we looked. I brought the conversation back to what we’ve created since the club’s inception and where the club’s future is headed. Yes, it sounded exaggerated, even far-fetched — like a dream — but that’s the point. People rally when they can dream; especially when the dream is shared. You can see the most rallying part of that presentation here.
- Focusing Attention
Have you ever talked to a crowd and noticed that more than half of the eyes in the room are glued to their smartphones or computers? In this day and age, if you’re even slightly boring for a minute, people start spacing out and distracting themselves. When you have something important to say, you need to know how to hook people’s attention quickly. Stand up. Be loud. Walk around. Share phrases that pique curiosity. Be creative in your approach. If your audience is going to be distracted, make sure they are distracted by you.
I was once at a fundraising event where I was the last presenter of 10 other speakers. By the time I went up on stage, everyone was ready to go home. So I told them the exact opposite of what they were expecting to hear: that no matter what I said, they would not donate to my organization. And then I reframed the presentation to prove my point. After the talk, I had 2 out of the 3 donors come up to me, disagreeing with my approach while agreeing to help me out. Total win.
- Free Marketing
So many times at large events, conferences, or radio stations, they are looking for speakers, for somebody who has something compelling to say that their audience would like. And at each of those opportunities, there’s always the chance to plug your organization. Free marketing, who wouldn’t want that?! But in a sea of people, so many would say no to that opportunity due to a fear of public speaking.
I was just at an event where they asked me, “Hey James, do you want to pump up the audience, and get them out of their seats?” They completely caught me off guard with this request. I wasn’t prepared. I was honestly tired and started making an excuse, but then stopped myself. I took that mic anyway, did my thing, got people clapping, got them out of their seats, and then shared what our organization did and wished them a great night.
Thankfully, public speaking is one of those skills that you truly can acquire in life. The more you practice it, the easier it gets. There are no “naturals” out there — they simply have had more practice than you. You see, public speaking is like a muscle. Athletes know you have to go to the gym and train those muscles every day in order to grow stronger. You can be a great public speaker, but you have to always be practicing.
If you’re wondering how you could get better, see if you have a local Toastmasters club or just a group of friends who are interested in personal development. There are always people who want to practice, they just need someone to do the initial legwork to organize it. You can even find volunteer opportunities — like volunteering as a museum docent — that’ll help you acquire the public speaking skills you need while serving your passion. The best part of public speaking is that because you’re focusing so much time on communication, it improves your communication in other areas of your life, too. I’ve personally never met someone who regretted the time they invested in practicing public speaking.
Author Bio: James McBryan is an 11-time volunteer organizer and the founder of Track it Forward, a way for membership organizations and nonprofits to track volunteer time. He runs a blog for the part-time volunteer coordinator where he helps translate professional working strategies into volunteer management practices.