Speak Easy

Amy Thomasson
March 09, 2021

While public speaking may not have the dubious distinction of being the most common fear, it still ranked highly enough on Chapman University’s annual “Survey of American Fears” to beat out kidnapping, zombies and even the prospect of an apocalypse. However, unlike battling a horde of zombies, delivering a speech or presentation is a challenge you have likely faced and will continue to encounter throughout your career. As association management professionals, we must also address unique demands of not only conquering our public speaking fears, but conveying compelling stories that move our members, volunteers and staff teams to action. Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to move from a novice to a polished speaker, effectively tailor your story to your audience and appropriately address feedback. Your peers are here to tell you how.

Nerves are normal.
According to Mark Twain, “There are two types of speakers: those who get nervous and those who are liars.” Anyone who has had the privilege of meeting the indomitable Jacqualine Price Osafo, VP of Membership, American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), would be surprised to find that nerves are still part of her pre-presentation equation. Yet she has learned to harness that energy productively. Price Osafo says, “The key is getting some of the nervous energy out of your body prior to stepping in front of an audience. I am obsessed with the Wonder Woman pose for confidence. One must stand in the Wonder Woman—or for men, Superman—pose for five minutes. The purpose of the pose is to increase your self-confidence. I learned about this pose in Shonda Rhimes’ ‘Year of Yes’ and Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, ‘Your Language Shapes Who You Are.’ My second act of preparation is to exercise my mouth and body by singing one of my favorite tunes or dancing it out to a favorite song.”

Observe and apply your learnings.
Scott Oser, President, Scott Oser Associates, partners with associations to deliver customized solutions and strategic expertise. This line of work has resulted in exposure to countless speakers, presenters and facilitators, enabling him to learn by watching others. “I have watched speakers within the association space and outside of our space to see what they do well and what I can incorporate into my presentations,” he says. While observing and learning from the successes and stumbles of other speakers is important, Oser also emphasizes making your presentations your own. “Be confident and make sure you have your own presentation style. Audiences can sense when speakers are unsure of themselves. Speakers get selected based on their knowledge and experience, so let that shine through.”

Prepare to go off script.
Jon Kinsella, Director of Digital Marketing, Association Headquarters, has also spent his career serving an array of association clients. The needs of his clients are as varied as the members they serve, which has afforded Kinsella the opportunity to speak at annual meetings, deliver online educational programs and more. Since he functions as a representative of the organization he is serving, Kinsella has learned that advance preparation is critical to success. “Confidence comes from preparation. Being a subject-matter expert on digital marketing has given me the confidence to pivot off my script and venture into spontaneous streams of consciousness that have produced some of my most compelling content,” Kinsella says. “The level of presence that confidence produces helps me get out of my head and pay attention to my audience. From there, I can key in on what they are responding to and what isn’t hitting home, which helps determine what to expand upon and what to quickly glide over.”