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March 2002 - Lessons Learned from Speeches to Civic Clubs

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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March  2002

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:

  1. Know your audience.  Learn about the audience and organization before you go to speak.  Most civic clubs provide information on the web.

  2. 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.

  3. Never put your notes on the lectern ahead of time.  The club president may accidentally pick them up with his materials.

  4. Don’t rely on fancy PowerPoint slides.  Most clubs are not equipped for them.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Keep your answers short and to the point.  When somebody asks what time it is, don’t build a watch.

Next time you speak—think about these lessons learned.  When you have finished speaking, you can probably add some of your own to the list.

John Kline
Troy, Alabama

March 2002 - Lessons Learned from Speeches to Civic Clubs
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