Lessons Learned from Speeches to Civic Clubs
Several times each year I teach an elective on Executive
Speaking to ten officers—Lt Colonels and Colonels—at the
USAF Air War College. The
elective meets over a period of two months for sixteen, two-hour
sessions. I also meet
several times with each officer throughout the course.
I schedule each officer to present a 15-18 minute
speech to a civic organization such as a Lions, Rotary, Kiwanis,
Exchange, or Optimist club. They
must also answer questions from the audience.
Afterwards we sit down together and discuss how it went.
Here are some things a recent class learned:
Know your audience.
Learn about the audience and organization before you go to
speak. Most civic clubs
provide information on the web.
Get there a little early to assess the room set
up. Check the
microphone and public address system.
Meet a few people. Get the lay of the land before you speak.
Never put your notes on the lectern ahead of
time. The club
president may accidentally pick them up with his materials.
Don’t rely on fancy PowerPoint slides.
Most clubs are not equipped for them.
Practice your speech.
But also practice answering questions you might be asked.
These officers’ classmates were more than willing to ask
tough questions. And it
paid off! They were prepared for the real thing.
Know what time the club adjourns.
If you are unable to begin a planned eighteen-minute speech
until 12:45 p.m. for a club that adjourns at 1 p.m., know how to
trim the speech. Busy club members will leave at one o’clock to make their
scheduled appointments whether the speaker is finished or not.
Make sure you, the speaker, have built extra
time in your schedule to stay and answer questions from those who
choose to stay after adjournment.
Keep your answers short and to the point.
When somebody asks what time it is, don’t build a watch.
time you speak—think about these lessons learned.
When you have finished speaking, you can probably add some of
your own to the list.