Your public-speaking nightmare is about to come true. Here’s how to handle it

Question:

I’m not a public speaker — and I have two days to become one.

Here’s the deal. Someone in our company made the decision that at each quarterly meeting an “average worker” will speak about their job and what they like about our company. I was nominated by someone for this “honor.” When my manager told me, I said I’d rather not, but he said it had already been decided and since I’d worked here for 10 years, I was a logical choice. He also said if I didn’t speak, it would embarrass our department and him.

So I have to. I can already hear how my coworkers are going to make fun of me after this is all over. My wife told me to call you.

Answer:

You don’t have to become a polished public speaker to do a good job of this. Here’s what the best speakers do: They’re genuine, they’re brief and they’re seated.

Start with the truth: “I’m not a public speaker. I’m like you; I work here and have for 10 years. I like my coworkers. I like my manager — despite the fact that he didn’t get me out of this.”

Then add what you like about the company. If there’s nothing special, at least you can say that you feel grateful that you and others have a good job in this economy. My guess, however, is that you wouldn’t have worked for this company for 10 years without there being something good — perhaps you find your work interesting or respect the people you work with. After you’ve said that, you can sit down, knowing you’ve gotten through it, because those listening to speeches rejoice when speakers can be brief.

But — is that all you want? Or do you want to surprise yourself and everyone else and give a great speech? If you do, here’s what you need to know. If you make your speech about everyone else and not about you, you give a speech that inspires.

What if, in the section “what I like about this company,” you include photos of some of your coworkers, caught in the act of working? For example, what if you say, “I really like payroll, because they get us paid,” and include a photo of the payroll staff hard at work. You can acknowledge the staff who keep your facility clean by saying, “We don’t give our facility folks enough credit, but one of the things I like is that they keep this place shipshape.” You’ve got the idea, though I suggest you also include a photo of your manager and say, “Despite the fact that he set me up here, he’s a pretty good guy.”

In other words, shift the attention, which you don’t want anyhow, to everyone else, and make your presentation what your company actually hopes for, a “feel good” moment.

Next, most individuals who hate public speaking fear they’ll forget what they had planned to say or will stumble over words or otherwise look like an idiot. The best way around that is to have a slide presentation, such as PowerPoint (using simple photos for slides in this example), loaded up, so that the slides trigger your memory. For example, your first slide can have the headline “My job” and have a photo of your work area and your coworkers. The slide itself will remind you to say, “Here’s where I work and here are several people who are part of what I like about being here.” With that as your opening, you’ll lessen the chances that your coworkers will make fun of you later.

Finally, conduct a dry run by practicing your speech multiple times to your wife, the mirror, your dog — or even just the wall. The more times you run through your presentation, the more comfortable you’ll feel when you stand up and deliver it for real.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.

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