By Penny McLaren 2016-11-17 11:10:26
Improve your skills—and confidence—in speaking in front of a group. You notice it—but you pray no one else does. Your hands begin to tremble. Your heart starts to pound. Your mouth is as dry as the Sahara. Your legs suddenly feel like noodles, and you worry they won’t hold you up. Here it comes…the introduction is finished, and you must stand up—and speak. It is a generally accepted truth that public speaking is one of the most feared activities any of us are called upon to do, notes Scott Little, executive director, School Nutrition Association of Michigan, as well as associate director of Michigan School Business Officials. He has conducted very popular training sessions on the topic of public speaking at SNA’s National Leadership Conference (NLC) and other venues. “Standing in front of a group to give a talk is, for just about everyone, a significant life event,” says Little. “I still remember my talk and topic when I gave my first speech in the seventh grade.” Even in school nutrition, it’s likely there will be various occasions when many of you will be required to speak in front of a group. It might be training your staff. It might be telling the PTA about new menu items in the cafeteria this year. It might be reporting on membership recruitment efforts at a local chapter meeting. “When you have ideas, people will want you to talk about them,” remarks Little. “You will be asked to do that.” GOOD SPEAKERS ARE “MADE” Don’t be intimidated by those who make it look easy. Few are born with polished public speaking skills. Even if you are comfortable when speaking in front of others, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at keeping their attention or making a powerful and persuasive argument. Most effective speakers have had to learn and prepare. “Taking classes in speaking is absolutely important,” advises Little. Paula Gualtieri is a past participant in one of Scott Little’s training sessions, and she expects that investment of her time to continue to pay off when she is installed as president of the Washington School Nutrition Association next August. She is currently the state president-elect, as well as a manager at Canyon Park Junior High School in Northshore School District, Bothell, Wash. “I never really had a fear of public speaking, but [the training] did help me to be more comfortable,” Gualtieri credits. Because of her association leadership position, she knew she needed to be able to give a good presentation, especially in front of her peers and supervisors. She put the lessons she learned to work when she gave the opening welcome address at a state workshop this past fall. Her audience was “a very intimidating group,” she notes. “But it went well. Now, I feel a lot more confident in talking to the whole state membership at a conference.” What Gualtieri found most valuable was Little’s technique of having the training participants work in small groups. One exercise was using smartphones to record one another giving a short talk on a subject of their own choosing. The playback was illuminating. “It taught me how to overcome some of my [speaking] idiosyncrasies,” she explains. “Now, I try not to use my hands so much.” The more she applies the many tips she has learned, the better her presentations have become. “Sometimes you think you are fine, but then, when you are up there, your hands start shaking,” Gualtieri admits. She compensates simply: “I have learned to ask for a podium when I give a talk.” She also keeps an outline of what she wants to say on hand, but does not memorize her speech. She finds that when she knows her topic well, the outline is sufficient to create a natural flow. Training and the practice she gains from various opportunities have helped her to grow more confident. Gualtieri welcomes students to the cafeteria with an enthusiastic, “Good morning, Canyon Park!” at the opening of school. She spoke comfortably when her state senator came visit—a meeting she once would have avoided. “We need to connect with people more, and not be afraid to speak up when we need to,” asserts Gualtieri. “I’d encourage others to go through public speaking training. I feel much better when I am asked to speak now.” THE TOOLS YOU USE “A presentation is a task,” says Don Feldheim, head of Expressive Communication Services, a Massachusetts-based consultancy. “Think about the utensils, plates, trays, stoves, ovens, computers, copiers and all the other tools you use to prepare and serve meals or manage a kitchen and staff. The more proficient you become in selecting the right tools for a specific job—understanding how the tools work—and the more professional you become in applying the techniques in using those tools, then the higher the quality of the end product.” Now, apply that same thinking to creating and giving a speech, he advises. “Just like any other task, it can be performed more successfully if the right tools and techniques are learned and applied.” Feldheim has coached speakers who work in a wide variety of professions, helping them to develop and present inspirational addresses. He agrees that good training is essential in delivering successful and effective presentations. Most presentations have a goal—usually to motivate the listeners to think or feel a certain way or to take a certain action. “Training teaches a presenter how to do this,” Feldheim says. “How to make an interesting and effective presentation—one that makes the listener want to listen. Training can prevent you from making a dull presentation that does not accomplish its purpose, therefore making it a waste of time and effort for both the presenter and listeners.” School nutrition professionals will appreciate the metaphor Feldheim offers about the importance of mastering presentation techniques. “A successful presentation is similar to a successful lasagna,” he says. “If someone said, ‘Oh, anyone can make a good lasagna,’ you might laugh at them. You know a delicious lasagna requires the chef to use a good recipe, the right ingredients, the right sequence of using the ingredients, the right utensils, oven, temperature, timing and presentation. A successful speech or presentation is no different. There’s a recipe that specifies the correct ingredients, tools, techniques and timing.” According to Feldheim, “Just about anyone has the potential to make an effective presentation, but the majority of people have not been trained in public speaking.” Just like a good cook who can walk into a kitchen and be confident about preparing a delicious lasagna, trained presenters can step up to the microphone with confidence that they won’t be embarrassed. Feldheim offers an example from his practice. A prison chaplain needed help in writing and delivering a keynote address at a statewide annual conference of her fellow chaplains and other volunteers. She was very nervous about addressing such a large audience—with good reason. “Group dynamics in a large audience make it very difficult to earn and keep the listeners’ attention—not to mention the challenge of convincing them to take the actions she wanted to promote,” notes Feldheim. To address these challenges, his client crafted her address around issues about which she and her audience were very passionate, as well as showing how the actions she was promoting were beneficial to attendees, as well as the population they served. Finally, they worked on her ability to deliver the address with minimal references to the script. The result? “Her address was so successful that she was immediately invited to address another group,” Feldheim reports. WHO’S TALKING NOW? Ready to conquer your concerns and improve your own public speaking skills? Scott Little suggests enrolling in a program like Toastmasters (see the box on page 29), calling it a “safe environment and a great resource,” based on his personal experience. In the absence of professional training opportunities that are immediately available, there are steps you can take on your own to improve your speaking skills. Number one: Get experience. The more you speak, the better you get. Practice opportunities don’t have to be professional ones. “Practice giving an impassioned presentation to yourself in a mirror, or to friends or family,” advises Feldheim. Try to convince someone to agree with you about, say, “a favorite cause or sports team, a favorite place to eat, a favorite movie or anything else that pulls on your emotions—in a positive way.” Another great exercise, he recommends, is simply to read an inspirational article aloud. Pick something “that moves you emotionally or spiritually.” When you have a passion for your subject matter, it comes across to the audience. If you’re asked to speak about school nutrition, you are halfway to success because it’s easy to demonstrate your passion for this topic! Scott Little echoes the need for practice. “The most important thing is to practice, out loud, to get a sense of the timing,” he advises. “Tell yourself, ‘I owe it to my audience.’ It makes you more confident.” As Gualtieri noted earlier, Little’s training sessions involve video recording with the speaker’s own smartphone. This can serve as a reference long after the workshop. In reviewing your performance with a critical eye, you may see things others failed to mention. Even the best, most honest feedback is likely to be incomplete, says Little. “When you look at your own recording, you notice that you never looked around the room. You notice your nervous habits. When you see yourself, you see room for improvement.” Another tip: “If you have the opportunity ahead of time, before your talk begins, get to know the people in the audience,” suggests Little. Introducing yourself and making small talk means you will have allies once you begin. “Maybe they will give you nods in agreement as you make your points and when you look at them. It makes you feel better about your presentation,” he explains. Keep seeking occasions where you can get some practice. Start by looking within your own department. Ask the director or manager if you can lead a staff meeting. Have you attended a state or national conference? Perhaps you can share what you’ve learned. Then, kick it up a notch—apply to give a presentation at a regional, state or national conference. YOUR TURN TO SPEAK Beyond an SNA conference, it’s likely that there may be some sort of speaking opportunity coming your way. A report to the school board. A training session for staff. A nutrition lesson for students. A wedding toast. A funeral eulogy. These are situations where you will be expected to stand in front of an audience, big or small, and communicate effectively with everyone there. In the boxes throughout this article, three SNA leaders share stories of their public-speaking journeys. They affirm that training can help to overcome initial insecurities, polish innate skills or both. At the very least, training—and practice—will help you keep those wobbly knees under control. ”There are two kinds of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”—Mark Twain A TOAST TO TOASTMASTERS Toastmasters International is an educational organization for people who want to improve their public speaking skills. It has been around since 1905, when an early version of the group was organized at an Illinois YMCA, and then firmly established in 1924 in Santa Ana, Calif. Today, there are more than 15,900 clubs all across the United States and in 142 countries. Members join local clubs for opportunities to give speeches on a regular basis and gain proficiency. Guidance from a specific educational program is intended to provide progressive skills-building. Mentors support new members through the process. At the close of each meeting, members vote on the presentations and ribbons are awarded. Visit the organization’s website, www.toastmasters.org, to use the locator tool to find a club near you. You can attend a meeting as a guest any time, before committing to becoming a member. Dues are $45 for six months, with a first-time member fee of $20; local club fees may be added. Toastmasters’ education programming focuses on helping members to improve presentation style in various areas, including: • Working on eye contact • Eliminating “ums” and “uhs” • Learning positive gesture use • Speaking from notes, rather than reading from slides • Adding “story” to your “data” FROM SCARED TO SONGBIRD Julia Bauscher, SNS, director, School and Community Nutrition Services, Jefferson County (Ky.) Public Schools, is an SNA Past President who had to give many public speeches before and during her term. Bauscher does not see herself as a natural-born speaker. “In high school and college, public speaking scared the bejeebers out of me,” she laughs. And yet, by the time Bauscher gave her farewell speech in front of thousands at the Annual National Conference in Salt Lake City, she felt so comfortable that she actually sang a few lines from the parting tune that comedian Carol Burnett made famous (“I’m so glad we had this time together”). “It went over well,” she reports. “Someone said, if all else fails, sing a song. It makes you step out of your comfort zone.” Indeed, “I hardly get butterflies anymore when I give a speech, I just do it so much,” Bauscher notes. Her confidence in speaking before large audiences came gradually over time, particularly through her state and national association involvement. Her early career in sales also was very beneficial, she says, because she learned to relate to customers. Bauscher also gives credit to SNA staff who provided her with scripts and presentations well in advance. This allowed her plenty of time to practice. In fact, she keeps many of these presentations on a USB drive, in case she is called upon as a late fill-in. “Others know I can step up if needed,” she explains. “I have a playlist of PowerPoint graphics and write details in the PowerPoint notes page.” She also regularly updates a presentation she gives about her school meals operation. Using the template, she can highlight recent achievements and changes, along with current data points. Her goal is to add more personal stories to her talks, to make the facts more compelling. “The more often you give a talk, the easier it becomes,” she advises. “When you know your audience, it helps. Practice makes you comfortable. Know your topic, be knowledgeable. Have passion. It is easier to create a talk on topics where you are an expert.” EVERY EXPERIENCE HELPS Debbi Beauvais, RD, SNS, is director of school nutrition, Gates Chili Central School District, Rochester, N.Y. She also oversees two other Rochester-area school meal operations. She’s begun a two-year term as SNA secretary/treasurer. And in these and other professional and volunteer roles, she’s had numerous opportunities for public speaking. Oh—and she’s also made multiple television appearances. It’s a far cry from where she began. “Speaking was not a skill I was born with,” she insists. “To speak and come off as knowledgeable is a learned skill. When I was in college, I wanted to major in communications. I wanted to be the next Barbara Walters.” But an interest in dietetics prevailed, and network news aspirations faded. When her children were little, she taught consumer nutrition at a community college. “That was the start of being comfortable in front of a group,” Beauvais notes. She worked evenings at a cooking school and found herself leading discussions to make things more fun. “The manager of the school got a request to do a segment on a local television station and came to me, saying, ‘You are comfortable in front of a group, why don’t you do this and represent the school?’” she recounts. She accepted the challenge and began honing her skills through many such segments. The experience taught Beauvais how to be a good spokesperson—a role she pursued as a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She applied and was accepted for the role, specializing in K-12 school nutrition topics. The Academy provided her with her first formal training in public speaking. “They brought in high-powered trainers and I learned the tricks of the trade for a variety of interview scenarios,” she explains. Over the years, Beauvais has learned that good preparation is essential. “If the audience is bored to tears, you won’t be effective,” she notes. “The biggest thing is that you have to practice, even if you know the topic. Know the words you want to say.” FREE FROM BUTTERFLIES Sandy Ford, SNS, recalls a moment as she neared the end of her term as SNA president. She was practicing with the teleprompter, and at one point in the script, she kept breaking down in tears. “When you are talking about something you have a passion for and believe in, it can be emotional.” The teleprompter technician suggested she remove the statement that affected her so profoundly, so she did. But when it came to deliver the speech, she added the statement back in and got through it smoothly. Ford is now chief operating officer for the School District of Manatee County, Bradenton, Florida. She, too, honed her expertise as a speaker gradually, and credits her early success as a trainer with the Kansas Department of Education to her public-speaking expertise today. “It was those experiences that helped me most,” she credits. ”My most comfortable place still is in a training environment. I would much rather have people participate with me, than sit and listen to me talk.” Ford’s speaking opportunities grew from small groups to increasingly larger ones. She took some public speaking classes along the way through SNA. But, “It is a leap from conducting classes to giving a speech,” she concedes. “You need practice and experience in public speaking. Then you get better. You will be nervous, but you want to keep the butterflies moving in formation.” It is easier when you know your subject matter well, and can construct a speech so the information fits in sequence. “Anytime I talk, I know my topic,” says Ford. “The only time it is challenging is when it is not a familiar topic.” She also admits that while it is easier for her to speak before her staff as a boss, it’s harder to talk to her peers, as in the context of association work. But Ford encourages SN readers to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along. Give it a try and stretch your horizons. BONUS WEB CONTENT From Knocking Knees to Speaking With Ease This month’s online extras include tips for writing an organized and compelling presentation script, along with advice for dressing for a “leadership presence.” Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonus to access. Penny McLaren is a freelance writer in Vancouver, Wash., and a former editor of this publication. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more resources on public speaking training, contact Don Feldheim, Expressive Communication Services, email@example.com and Scott Little, School Nutrition Association of Michigan, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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