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In person: going public

Influencing comes in many guises, including public speaking. Karen Middleton offers some top tips.

In person: going public
I spend a lot of my time talking about influencing, whether that’s influencing locally, nationally or internationally. Of course, one way of influencing a wider group of people is through public speaking. 
 
I wrote an In Person column way back (15 October 2014) on this subject, but thought it might be useful to revise it through the lens of influencing.
 
Of course, the first thing to consider if you are going to influence a wider audience through public speaking is securing an invitation to do so. This may come through the position you hold, but, more often than not, it is through word of mouth – in that someone has heard you speak elsewhere and thinks you match what they are looking for.
 
You may also be involved with organising an event or conference – don’t be afraid to volunteer if you feel you have something to offer.
 
The hardest scenario is when you want to influence a specific audience, then see a public speaking opportunity to do that, but you need to find a way on to the programme. Clearly, advance warning of such events helps, but don’t be afraid to contact the organisers with an offer – it might just  be 10 minutes about your service, an innovation or experience, but it is an ‘in’. Let word of mouth then kick in.
 
Preparation is everything in public speaking. Know your audience, understand the aims of the event and appreciate where you are on the programme. In particular, know who is speaking before you and what they are likely to talk about.
 
Be as helpful as possible to the organisers. If they have set deadlines for slides, biographies and so on, deliver on time. 
 
Do find time to have a conversation with the organisers to ensure that you are clear about what they want and that nothing has been lost in translation. This will help you to understand the tone of the event so that you can deliver appropriately. 
 
In terms of influencing your audience, think about what they will want to hear and what you want to convey. Keep it simple – two or three headline messages that you want them to take away with them, which you know are solutions to the problems they face is a good rule of thumb. But, again, that means you need to know your audience.
 
In the 2014 column, I wrote about preparation and delivery in detail, but some issues are worth a recap.
 
We all get nervous – you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t – but good preparation does help. Conversely, I find that if I over-prepare, I can lose the audience very quickly because I don’t use what has been said earlier or what I might have heard over coffee.
 
As I said before, you know more about the topic of your talk than anyone in the room. But if you spot someone who makes you feel anxious – perhaps a colleague from a neighbouring trust or board who works in a similar field – draw attention to them to massage their ego a little. However, never start with an apology for it ‘only’ being you. 
 
You will feel more nervous than you appear to be, but remember that it’s a performance. So look the part: dress up rather than down. This shows respect.
 
To grab the audience straight away, I often start with a story. It needs to be relevant, but we all know stories get attention and allow you to establish a connection. Telling a story may help you to relax too. For the organisers’ sake, if for no one else’s, do try to stick to time.
 
To keep on influencing, you need further invitations to speak. So have contact details to the ready if audience members approach you and thank the organisers at the event and afterwards – remind them you are an easy-to-deal-with speaker.
 
Lastly, one thing has changed since 2014. Many more conferences are relayed live by Periscope – or equivalent – this means that off-the-cuff comments are recorded for ever. So be very careful not to slip into a false sense of security!  fl 

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Article Information

Author(s)

Karen Middleton Chief Executive Officer CSP

Issue date

1 November 2017

Volume number

23

Issue number

19
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