Public speaking skills are equally important for personal and professional reasons. Here's a brief tale of two sentences:
I recently had an experience that was like sitting in a sauna with 250 other people except with no pool or other way to escape the heat.
Am I talking about a tropical vacation destination? Hardly. I'm talking about open house night at my daughters' school where there is no air conditioning and since the calendar switching to September, summer decided to hang on with a vengeance with a near 100-degree day.
My daughters' school held their annual open house and it was HOT.
There we were: parents, teachers, and assistants, along with the one administrator, our new principal, all sitting on those gawd-awful metal chairs with parents eager to jump up and go visit our kids' classes. And we were HOT.
The price of admission to meet our kids' teachers and check out their daytime home away from home? Sitting through the speeches. Did I mention no air conditioning?
I personally was excited about hearing what our school's new principal had to say. He's young, enthusiastic, and has tons of exuberance. More importantly, over the summer within his first couple weeks of work, he dropped our little private school out of the dark ages finally implementing much-needed technology into the fabric of our school. He started a Facebook page as a way to connect with parents, established a standard email address system for all staff at the school (previously teachers had to supply their own personal email addresses to parents), and implemented a way for parents to see our kids 'Grades and performance through a private online portal. This guy is going to be good. And I was happily anticipating his speech.
Typically at our open houses there are speches from several people starting with the principal and then volunteers in charge of various groups like our PTA, athletics, enrollment, etc. But this year it was just the new principal and the PTA president. So far so good.
Here's where the tale of two chapters begins.
The principal was clearly prepared. He provided handouts, had a PowerPoint including an inspirational video, and constantly the oppressive heat in the school gym, was wearing a suit and tie. He was out to make a great first impression.
Here's what else he did right:
- He began the meeting right on time, therefore respecting the parents and everyone who had made it to the meeting on time.
- His opening remarks were warm and engaging.
- He then set the stage for the rest of his presentation by including a preview to his speech: sharing his plan for the rest of his talk.
- Then he followed his plan. It was easy for us parents to follow along with his mission statement, the technological improvements for better communication, and his ideas about instilling life lessons of respect, achievement and others into our kids through the school year.
- He provided handouts that followed his plan, which made easier for the audience to see where we were in the presentation and to follow along.
Even with all the great speech basics he followed it was clear he is not a professional speaker. And that's ok. There were a few things he could have done better (is not that true for us all?). At one point he walked away from the microphone to point to the screen (which he did not need to do) and stayed away from the microphone for a bit too long making it difficult to hear. When he introduced the teachers, we parents were not sure if we could applaud for our kids' teachers or not … in the past we were told to "hold applause" so this time some teachers got 1-2 claps and others later Received more generous applause. He could have said, "feel free to recognize your kids 'teacher with applause" or "in the interest of time, hold applause' til the end please." However, those were mostly minor issues and the speech overall went very well.
Then he introduced one of the Moms, who is the PTA president.
Our PTA president is a wonderful selfless woman who volunteers countless hours to help our school. She is caring and wants to build our parent community. She has worked for years with no pay, little thanks, and even less recognition. But a speaker … she is not. A few things she could have improved upon during her open house speech:
- No preview : As parents in the audience we kinda thought she'd stand up, introduce herself and remind us that we are welcome to be in the PTA. She did. And added a LOT more with no real clue as to what it'd be or what was coming next.
- No plan : It did not seem like she had any notes and was speaking off the cuff. That's OK for a quick "Hi I'm Mrs. So-and-So and we'd love you to join us at our PTA meetings once a month the 3rd Tuesday in the cafeteria …" but she obviously had some things she Wanted us to know about. And she rambled …
- " One more thing :" She said this about 3 times before she FINALLY wrapped up. If you're going to say "one more thing" then only one new piece of information should be presented before you conclude. It's cruel to your audience to "lie" about the one more thing only to have yet another: one more thing. "
- Lack of awareness for time : Some parents had several kids' teachers to meet and were anxious to get going. Many of us had babysitters at home watching our kids so we could be at the open house. It was HOT. We were melting.
It's difficult when you have to stand up in front of a room full of people if that's not something you normally do. When you're up there, and thoughts keep coming to you about something you know is important to your audience, you want to get it out there. That's why knowing and applying the basics of good public speaking is important in every situation.
Like the school principal, you do not have to be a professional. You can be passionate and knowledgeable. Both speakers at our open house certainly had those characteristics. What's important to note in this tale of two speeches is how even in an less formal situation, just a few public speaking techniques applied properly can give your audience a positive experience instead of wondering when it'll end.