Speaking at a civic club meeting puts you face-to-face with businesspeople that you might otherwise never have the chance to meet. Next time you’re invited to give a talk at one of these community groups, consider these five steps to make your appearance a success.
When a civic club invites you to speak, you have a marvelous opportunity to interact with community and business leaders. Let’s say that about 100 members attend every luncheon meeting. Think of how improbable it would be that you could get face-to-face time with each of those professionals for a half-hour using any other method. Even if you worked through numerous referrals and lined up those appointments, how many months would that take? By speaking to the group, you have eliminated all those hours of networking.
More importantly, by coming as the guest speaker you enjoy a prestigious position even before you stand to speak. After all, the members will reason, the program chair only invites speakers with unquestioned credibility.
Certainly you want to maintain–and even boost–your initial credibility. So take these five steps to speak with “poise, power, and persuasion.”
FIRST: Learn all you can about the club’s mission and activities.
Even within your opening comments, you want to assure the group that your speech is designed especially for this group, rather than being a “one size fits all” presentation.
Follow these steps to customize your talk:
- Study the club’s Web site
- Informally interview the program chair. Ask about this year’s major activities.
- Launch a Web search on the club’s name
- Search the local newspaper’s archives online, entering the club’s name
- During the meal prior to the program, ask your table mates about the club’s major accomplishments this year
Picture how much more attention you will foster when you include comments like these: “From everything I hear, your golf tournament last month was fun and raised thousands of dollars for the local Food Bank.” “It’s a real privilege to speak to the first chartered Kiwanis Club in our state.” “Your energetic leadership in the local blood donor drive was a major reason this year’s effort exceeded its goal.”
Sprinkle a few comments like that throughout your speech, and you’ll demonstrate that your speech is definitely planned, not canned.
SECOND: Get advice about your topic selection.
There’s considerable risk involved in just guessing about the topic that will interest this group the most–and provide listeners the most practical benefit. You reduce that risk greatly by giving the program chair a list of several topics within your area of expertise, with the comment: “You know the membership so well. I’ll really appreciate your guidance in helping me select a topic that they will be eager to hear.”
Example: As a financial expert, your potential topics might be:
- “What My Crystal Ball Says About the Housing Market”
- “Why the Stock Market Remains a Solid Long-Term Investment Option”
- “Planning Strategies to Reduce Your Tax Liability”
- “How to Manage Your Assets to Assure Stability in Your Retirement”
Not only will your request for help compliment the program planner, you will learn quickly how to shape your content to meet the audience’s needs.
THIRD: Prepare a brief written introduction that capsules your brand
Yes, I’m sure that already you’re thinking about introductions you’ve heard that ramble endlessly, naming every award the speaker has earned, bordering on bragging more than introducing. So avoid the customary puff-sheet. While you do want to establish yourself as a leader in your field, cover that in a couple of paragraphs. Also, slant your introduction to your experiences that relate to the group. To illustrate: “Our speaker has been very supportive of this community’s efforts to educate young people about drug addiction, just as our club has done for the last five years.”
Take your written introduction to the program chair at least a week before the meeting. And be sure to bring along an extra copy to the event, in case your introducer forgets the one you provided.
FOURTH: Reserve one-third of your time for a question and answer period
Most civic club members are accustomed to interaction, not just passive reception of messages. How many times have you seen a leadership-level audience come to life when even a bland speaker opens the floor for questions?
Amazingly, I once saw a speaker at my civic club–a very young professional race car driver–start his speech by saying, “I’m not much on speaking, but I have as long as you want to take to answer your questions.” Fortunately, racing fans jumped to his rescue, generating a lively thirty minutes of dialogue.
To prompt questions, stay away from the outworn, “Anybody got any questions?” Get more creative, such as: “That’s my overview of the topic. Yet I’m sure some of you have thought of questions I haven’t answered, and so I’ve reserved time to respond to those. Who wants to go first with a question or comment?”
FIFTH: Honor the Time Limits–Absolutely, Unfailingly
Your program chair might say to you, “At 1:00 p.m., everybody is going to leave, so you better be through speaking by then.” Though she smiles when she says that, she’s quite serious. Your audience is packed with people who must return to their workplaces promptly. No matter how valuable your material might be for them, they face a predetermined deadline–which means you do also.
Even the most compelling speaker will leave an unfavorable impression by exceeding the allotted time span. Stated more positively, you could easily gain a few extra admirers by stopping three or four minutes early.
To sum up: Speaking to a civic club offers you a cherished encounter with the community’s leadership. You will help club members the most when you research the club’s mission and activities and mention them in your speech, get advice about your topic selection, prepare a brief introduction that capsules your brand, reserve a third of your presentation time for a Q/A session, and stop speaking on or before the agreed-upon deadline.