In our profession, we are asked to speak in front of members several times a year, sometimes in front of hundreds of people. A seasoned speaker knows the rules: write it down, read it, record and listen to it, perform it in the mirror, then… do it again. Practice makes perfect, right?
I have been speaking in front of large crowds for over eight years, am a member of Toastmasters, and have earned the Competent Communicator award. I can speak to any type of crowd with confidence. Or maybe I should say – I should be able to speak to any type of crowd with confidence. After all, I’ve had a lot of practice.
I used to brag that I put my speech together that morning and actually pulled it off. But I cheated myself and my audience. When I take the time to prepare, I bring valid information. When I practice and know my speech, I know I can deliver a message in a way others can understand. I am blessed with knowledge and ability to influence others by consistently sharing facts, not hearsay. I highlight positive attributes of my subject, versus dwelling on negatives.
Unfortunately, overconfidence led me to a day I will never forget. I stood before a room of over 250 members as I kicked off our annual convention. Part of my role was to introduce the chairman and speaker. I always review the bios, make sure I use proper pauses where needed, and pronounce credentials correctly. Not this year! In my overconfidence, I skipped that important step of preparing and practicing. I’m an experienced Toastmaster. I’m an experienced Executive Director. I’ve got this.
As I stood at the podium asking for everyone’s attention to “Please stand for the presentation of our flags,” the room went silent. Everyone rose to their feet. Two veterans began to slowly walk from the back of the convention hall, carrying the flags to the front to be delicately placed into their holders. All eyes were on me.
And I… forgot the words… to The Pledge of Allegiance.
Who can forget the Pledge of Allegiance? Me!
This happened, not because I didn’t know the Pledge of Allegiance, but because as I stepped to the podium, I suddenly realized I hadn’t prepared. I began to panic. What if there was something in the bio I couldn’t pronounce? What if there were errors? What if it wasn’t in my notebook at all? As my mind raced forward, I left the moment… and lost my place.
This type of situation can happen to anyone at any time. Hopefully, not at such an awkward time as when the entire membership’s attention is on you. I was petrified.
The key is to prepare. Don’t shortchange yourself or your audience because you’ve “done this a hundred times.” Be prepared and approach each day with the experience your position has given you, but with the humility of being new.