As a pastor, I learned firsthand why most missionaries and nonprofit leaders rarely get the opportunity to share at the best and largest attended events with potential funders.
We pushed these speakers to Sunday nights (our second least attended event of the week) or Wednesday nights (the least attended event of our week).
It was not because their causes were not worthy. The truth is, they were angels, experts at serving their beneficiaries. But, sad (and hard) to say, fundraisers are often horrible public speakers.
All visionary fundraisers who get fully funded have to speak to groups of people—knowing that, the savvy fundraiser will work hard at becoming the best public speaker possible.
I remember a painful but honest 360 degrees evaluation I took part in years ago. It turned out public speaking was my least honored skill of all I did. You should understand a lot of my job revolved around speaking publicly.
I acted like I was ok. But it was painful. And it was true!
I took that painful moment as a challenge to become a better public speaker. For the next few years, I read books (yes, Public Speaking For Dummies), took classes, courses, and attended conferences to become a better speaker. I also asked people to critique me each week. Talk about scary! But like so many other scary things I had to do, I did it while I was afraid (see Can Shy People Fundraise?).
Years later, I also remember when a trusted member of that evaluation team reminded me of that day, asking, “Do you remember how we evaluated your public speaking as your least powerful skill?”
Um… Did I remember? Yes, vividly.
“Well,” he proceeded to say, “that is definitely not true today!” That was a happy day for me! He went on to say that public speaking might be one of my greatest skills.
I will share with you five things that I learned to up my game in public speaking (and fundraising).
1. Verbal pauses.
Verbal pauses are when you say um, ah, uh, you know, etc., while your brain searches for the next words to say. I will never forget becoming aware of verbal pauses and asking a friend to count mine during a presentation: hundreds.
I was horrified.
It is, um, like exhausting uh…when these um…fundraisers get up and uh…they publicly speak and…um…by the time they um…finally get to the point of their um…speech, I AM UM…EXHAUSTED!
When silence will suffice, but your mouth keeps going and blurts out meaningless extra syllables, people slowly tune out.
A great place to up your game as a fundraising public speaker is Toastmasters. When you practice your public speaking at Toastmasters, someone there is assigned the job of “Ah-Counter.” Get ready to have your eyes opened!
A big verbal pause in the culture today is the word like.
I went over to his house, and I was, like, what is going on here? He saw me and was, like, livid that, like, someone like me would be there! Like, wow, right? Like, how often does that happen?
Repeated words can be a public speaker’s downfall. Saying “so” at the beginning of every sentence Saying, “You know?” often “Right?”
The first century biblical story about Peter and John highlights their “boldness.” The original Greek word translated boldness can mean without circumlocution. What does circumlocution mean? To use a lot of words when a few would do!
May we all find that kind of boldness!
2. First thirty seconds
The Catholic University in Washington D.C. conducted a study on the attention span of lecture attendees. They found that most people stop paying attention to public speakers only thirty seconds into the speech. I know, crazy. Right?
That means you should work hardest on the first minute of your presentation.
Temi Badru says it so well:
Someone got an invitation to speak at a global conference and for some reason, he spent the first few minutes convincing the audience that they shouldn’t be listening to him and they are wasting their precious time. What if I told you that the ‘someone’ might just be you? When you start your speech by making statements like “I’m not as good as the other speakers, so please bear with me” or “don’t know why I was invited because I’m not really qualified and it’s my first time here,” you are telling the audience that the next few minutes wouldn’t be worth it. Unfortunately, some people will take your hint and walk away (physically or mentally).
Untrained public speakers are notorious for wasting this precious moment of opportunity at the beginning of their presentations. Pastors do this often. They set up their message with a video trailer. THEN, they repeat the announcements, talk about the weather, brag on the band, mention needy prayer requests, etc. THEN AFTER THE MOMENT IS TOTALLY WASTED they will start their message.
Savvy public speakers who understand the power of story begin their speech by being clear about the problem they are bringing an answer to IN THE FIRST FEW MINUTES OF THEIR TALK. The beginning of your speech is a great place to use your one-liner (learn more about a great one-liner here).
AFTER you have hooked your audience, THEN you can thank them for inviting you, brag on the band, etc.
At your next presentation, I dare you to walk out onto the stage and clearly articulate the problem you have an answer for with the first words that come out of your mouth!
Notice how we talk and tell stories. We lift our voice; we lower our voice. We speed up our pace; we slow our pace. The great fundraising speaker learns to be more dramatic than feels normal. Practice your presentation. There should be a time when you raise your pitch and a time when you lower it. There should be a time when you speed your pace and a time when you slow it.
I have a few fundraising and public speaking friends who refuse to practice their public speaking. We have words to describe them: poor public speakers.
Successful Presentations for Dummies, by Malcolm Kushner, is an excellent resource. He talks about how it doesn’t matter how nervous you are; what matters is that the audience thinks you are not nervous! Some distractions that make you appear nervous and scared:
Your stage presence: pacing like a wild animal in a cage
Fidgeting: if you are using a lectern, place your hands on it as if you are playing a piano
Drinking a lot of water: get a small glass and pace yourself
Hands shaking - (see above)
NEVER apologize for being nervous; this only draws attention to it. As speech expert Allatia Harris says, “Never apologize to the audience unless you’ve injured someone.”
5. Eye contact
I love Malcolm Kushner’s description of the power of eye contact:
There’s a point in many old tearjerker romantic movies where the heroine tells the hero (or vice versa) that she doesn’t love him anymore. (Usually the villain has forced this situation upon them.) The violins come up strongly on the soundtrack. The camera pans in for a close-up. Shock and disbelief register across the hero’s face. And inevitably, he utters this immortal line: “Look me in the eye and say that.” In other words, it’s not true until she says it while making eye contact.
Eye contact is a significant factor in earning credibility. This explains why you can’t raise major gifts through email, social media, and newsletters. You can’t make eye contact.
Eye contact officially initiates conversation. I dare you to get a waiter’s attention without it!
Seeing you get all the money you need thrills me!
Keep saying thank you, telling stories AND being a great public speaker.