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Effective Public Speaking

Cathy Gaston
Baton Rouge LA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 4, August-September 2001, p. 81

One of the most valuable aspects of leadership is the skill and experience that we gain from public speaking. Every month many of us have the opportunity to lead Group discussions on some aspect of breastfeeding. While not a basic responsibility, Leaders can also take opportunities to speak to outside groups about breastfeeding. These speaking opportunities are a great way to gain publicity for your Group and for La Leche League.

Whether you are speaking to parents at a childbirth class or to a group of health care professionals, the manner in which you deliver your speech is as important as the message itself. Anyone can become nervous when speaking in front of a group of people but there are some things you can do to make yourself more comfortable and more confident. Remember, as an invited speaker, you are publicizing breastfeeding, your Group, and LLL.

Speak with conviction. Believe in what you say and let it show. Now this is fairly easy in LLL. We all feel our message is important, otherwise, we probably wouldn't be talking about it. How you feel about your topic comes across in your delivery. Appearing confident, smiling, looking into your audience's eyes, and standing up straight and tall lets your audience feel you believe in what you say. This gives you more credibility and your message will be more readily accepted.

Even if you are feeling shaky and not very confident on the inside, smile. I was recently on a local television show to publicize our Group's World Walk for Breastfeeding. Later, one of the Group attendees asked me how I could be so calm and cool while on TV. I had to think about it a few seconds because I did not remember feeling very calm and cool, and answered, "I practiced." Stand in front of a mirror and practice smiling and looking confident. You might be surprised to find that you feel more at ease the next time you are speaking in public.

Remember the audience wants you to succeed. The people who are listening to you are there for one purpose, to receive the information that you have to give them. They are not there to judge you personally. While you may be feeling very self-conscious of everything you consider to be a personal flaw, the audience is generally taking the information you are giving and applying it to themselves. They should be less conscious of you than of your message. If you make a mistake of some kind, just keep smiling. Take a moment to correct yourself or find your place and keep going.

Do not read your speech. Your audience can read. What they need is to hear your important message made in an extemporaneous style of delivery. Work from an outline. You may want your outline to be extensive. No one expects you to have all of your statistics memorized, but examples and anecdotes are much more effectively received when given in a natural manner.

Speak slowly and conversationally. Talking too fast often comes from the heightened emotion of nervousness. Many speakers are not even aware of how rapidly they are talking; they zip through their points so quickly, the audience hardly has time to register what they are saying. If you are naturally a fast talker, you may have to slow your speech down to a point that feels uncomfortably slow for you. For the sake of Your audience, though, and the message you are conveying, this is far superior to talking too fast.

Again, practice. Pacing yourself so you speak slowly and naturally is a skill that can be learned by everyone. Stand in front of a mirror the first time. Practice using gestures. When you feel ready, give your talk to another Leader, your husband, or simply record yourself if you cannot find anyone who can listen. (Watching or listening to yourself on tape, however, is much more painful than getting constructive criticism from a friend.)

Enjoy yourself. It is difficult to do anything from which we do not derive some pleasure. Speaking in public and feeling comfortable and confident will become easier and more enjoyable the more you do it. Every Leader in our organization has a vital message to convey. Leaders who speak to outside groups help to spread our message to a wider audience. Hospitals, high schools, nursing schools, childbirth classes, and service organizations are only a few examples of groups that can benefit from hearing LLL's message of optimum nutrition and mothering through breastfeeding. Being invited to speak is often only a matter of making a call. Smile and let your message be heard.

Enjoy yourself. It is difficult to do anything from which we do not derive some pleasure. Speaking in public and feeling comfortable and confident will become easier and more enjoyable the more you do it. Every Leader in our organization has a vital message to convey. Leaders who speak to outside groups help to spread our message to a wider audience. Hospitals, high schools, nursing schools, childbirth classes, and service organizations are only a few examples of groups that can benefit from hearing LLL's message of optimum nutrition and mothering through breastfeeding. Being invited to speak is often only a matter of making a call. Smile and let your message be heard.

Resources

Krannich, C. R. 101 Secrets of Highly Effective Speakers. Manassas Park, VA: Impact Publications, 1998.
Slutsky, J. and Aun, M. The Toastmaster's International Guide to Successful Speaking. Chicago, IL: Dearborn Financial Publishing Inc., 1997.
Stuart, C. How to Be an Effective Speaker. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Publishing Group, 1993.

Cathy Gaston is a Leader with the Baton Rouge Group, Louisiana, USA. She has been leading for 14 years. Cathy has five children and previously worked as a speech coach. "Managing The Group" is edited by Deborah Wirtel. Send columns and ideas to Deb at 4246 Robert Koch Hospital Road, St. Louis, Missouri, 63129, USA, or DebMomm at aol.com (email).

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