by Karen Susman
It’s good to know that after 30+ years of speaking and coaching that I am still learning.
The backstory: I was hired to speak at a luncheon honoring service clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Sertoma, and Lions. The topic was building community involvement. I was to speak for thirty minutes.
The challenge: The burning issue for service clubs is dwindling membership. Thus, my focus was on why membership was dropping and how to attract new members. I had to make sure that I ended on a positive note even though I was giving them some tough stuff to digest.
Preparation: I researched the heck out of service clubs and why membership isn’t growing. I talked to potential members. I ate rubber chicken at a couple of service club lunches so I could mingle with members and get their take. I used LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to get input on my topic. Since it always takes longer to deliver your remarks than planned, I whittled my speech down to twenty minutes.
Since there was no PowerPoint crutch to rely on, I memorized my speech. I planned some flexibility into my talk so I could involve the audience.
The dilemma: Because of all the awards and acceptance speeches at the luncheon, my time was trimmed down to 10 minutes. If I weren’t being paid to speak, I would have simply congratulated the winners, made a few complimentary comments and concluded the meeting. But, I had to give the audience something for their money and end on time. Audiences hate it and you when you go over the time limit.
The dilemma, continued: It’s hard to edit on the fly in your head as you’re waiting to be introduced. One of the most difficult aspects of editing is to “kill your little darlings.” I hated to cut any of my clever phrases, examples, stories or funny lines. Plus, how could the audience live without all my research, and thoroughly memorized bon mots? Maybe my words were so visionary that they’d forgive me for speaking way beyond the scheduled ending time. Fortunately, I remembered that I must meet the audience’s needs instead of mine.
By the way, it was lucky I wasn’t using PowerPoint. I would have been saying, “Skip.” “Skip.” “Skip.” Click, click, clicking through slides alerts the audience to the fact that they are missing something.
The slashing process: I reminded myself of the main message I wanted the audience to walk away with. On the back of the program, I jotted down one example. I mentally cut the talk to the bone. When I was introduced, I got right to my core message. I pulled examples from the honorees in the audience. I offered to send them a list of membership building techniques that I’d planned to go over in my talk.
I let them know through my examples that I knew their plight, offered a few solutions and summed up with a call to action. I couldn’t resist ending with a song I’d written just for this group. Why? Because I knew the song would end the event on a high note. The song would also sum up my message. The song would involve the audience. And, I just love audience involvement.
The delivery: Since my time was so short, I got right to the point. I threw away my script and conversed with my audience. After all, we don’t rehearse conversations. Therefore, I really connected with them. I spoke with energy and enthusiasm. No dawdling.
Result: The audience loved it. The people writing the check loved it.
For you: Think about your audience’s needs first. Get your message down to its essence. What is the most important thing your audience must hear? Deliver that. Support it. Repeat it. Ask them to take a specific action. Sum up with a bang. Sit down.
But what about all that work and research I’d done? All that preparation was the fuel behind my message. I could speak with conviction and credibility because I was immersed in the topic and thoroughly prepared. I could probably speak for a full day on what service clubs need to do to build membership. The main point would be the same. All my other “little darlings” would just support my message.
And, my song? Well, I’m not giving up my song.
(c)Karen Susman and Associates
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