The value of PROs becoming good public speakers

I recently had the pleasure of attending a course run by Sarah Lloyd-Hughes and her team at Ginger Public Speaking. The course was primarily targeted at entrepreneurs but there were a number of PROs like myself in attendance too. Although we were obviously all at the training for the same reason, it was still a surprise to learn that public speaking and presenting fills so many PR professional with dread.

I had presumed my own issues were down to the fact that I’m still relatively green in the industry and, aside from a few presentations at university, I hadn’t had that much experience presenting to a large group of strangers. But it turned out that all of us, from account assistants and execs to directors and MDs, struggled to some extent with presenting and public speaking, and wanted to improve our skills.

It struck me as somewhat ironic considering how PR is practically all about communicating a message to an audience – in our writing, on the phone and in person. I think the general perception is that if you can call up a busy journalist at a national newspaper and confidently sell them your idea over the phone in fifteen seconds then it shouldn’t be too great a leap to hold the attention of a small crowd for a few minutes.

The training served as a reminder that while the world, and especially the PR industry, embraces new ways of communicating digitally, there is still real value in mastering persuasive public speaking.

A great public speech doesn’t just convince those in attendance to agree with what’s being argued, but also encourages them to spread the word. The power of oral tradition and the art of rhetoric, from Homer’s Iliad to Churchill’s “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech, endures, and today statesmen, businesspeople and the communications professionals behind the scenes are continuing that tradition. A great speech is as much about delivery as it is content and it’s not something that everyone is able to do easily – but everyone can improve, as our trainer Sarah explained from experience.

The course taught us the importance of not just thinking about what we were saying but also the way we were saying it, and suggested a number of speech ‘personas’ that we could emulate to find our own style (and the styles that we find challenging). Public speaking is something you can only truly learn by doing and so the best part of the session was spent doing short speeches to increasingly large groups of other participants.

Becoming a practiced public speaker provides PROs with a whole host of benefits. It will give your more confidence in yourself and your ability to persuade others, you will feel more at ease coming out of your shell in social situations and very likely see improvements in your networking skills. And the business case is also clear: your newfound influence will improve agency-client interaction and new business pitches, helping you to craft and deliver the perfect pitch and generate leads – more than enough reason to face your fears, stand up and speak.

Senior Account Executive at PR and integrated marketing agency TopLine Communications, focussing on the education and technology sectors.

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