Thursday, January 20, 2011

Let a future speaker tag along and learn how to prep

One of my former employees asked me out to lunch recently. To my surprise, she wanted to recall something I'd almost forgotten: The time I invested in training her in presenting and public speaking.

She worked for me early in her public relations career, and her sociable personality made us think she'd do well in an outreach position, working with members of our nonprofit association. The job required her to run a training workshop to show those members great ways they could do community outreach and public relations within their local chapters--and to speak at gatherings to recruit members to this activity. Only problem? She was both untrained in, and daunted by, public speaking.  And I mean daunted.  She seemed confident and self-assured, but confided this was her stumbling block.

Instead of thinking we'd made a mistake, we invested -- in training with a speaker trainer, in coaching her ourselves, and in encouraging her to take on more training through Toastmasters and any opportunity to speak.  Now, more than a decade later, she shared two things that were valuable for her in that process:
  1. "You took me with you." After she'd had a formal half-day training, focused on a presentation she'd be giving over and over again, we tag-teamed her first few presentations in front of a real audience. We worked on a presentation that would let her shine, but that we shared, taking some of the pressure off her. If a tough, unexpected question came up, I could field it. If she faltered, I could chime in. That level of "I have your back" made a big difference, as it turned out.
  2. "You insisted on preparation." She recalled a most-memorable moment from our tag-team days. We were at a member meeting, and presenting in the after-lunch session. At lunch, with a table full of fellow staffers, I looked at her and said, "Let's go check out the room" about 15 minutes before the end of the luncheon. The other staff members asked why, saying, "But you guys always do great presentations." My reply: "That's because we prepare." We had also spent the morning in my hotel room, going over the presentation, our hand-offs and transitions, and figuring out any rough spots. The 15 minute prep in the room was our audio-visual prep, our chance to walk the room and see how it would work when we walked into the audience, and our last-minute chance to get comfortable in the setting.
Today, this former employee of mine works for a public relations firm where she's involved in business development--meaning lots of team presentations that will make an enormous difference in the firm's bottom line. It's a high-impact job with the potential to propel her even further, and she's ready, having the tools to prepare herself.

I can't describe how gratifying it was to hear this feedback--but it reminded me of the important role management can play in creating confident, skilled speakers and presenters. We take for granted that people can pick up presentation skills, but showing them firsthand how it's done can make a world of difference in boosting confidence and making the experience meaningful. Investing in your early career staff members, not just with professional presentation and speaker training, but your own encouragement and coaching, pays off.  Take the time to model the behavior and walk the talk. You'll be thrilled with the results.

Related posts: Memo to the boss: 8 reasons I need training

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