Forget Public Speaking: Communication for a Crowd

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I’ve always loved BSR for the networking opportunity — lots of people come through that I don’t otherwise get an opportunity to meet. However we don’t just go to conferences to network — theoretically, there should be some learning too. But let’s be honest — those true “aha!” moments come few and far between. Well, I had one, and I’m excited enough that I need to tell you about it.

We at TriplePundit are in the business of communicating ideas. We do so primarily through the written medium but increasingly in person and in front of large crowds. While I speak in public enough that I don’t get nervous (anymore), I don’t love it love it. The written word has always been my favorite medium, and I am most comfortable in an in-person or small group interaction. I wanted to get more comfortable in front of a crowd, so I attended a small pre-conference workshop with Lisa Wentz, a public speaking executive coach, on Demystifying Public Speaking. I had specific goals: to improve my enunciation and projection; people tell me I mumble.

Wentz warned the dozen or so mostly-women attendees that public speaking improvement wasn’t about tips or tricks. She had a reframe for us. The goal of public speaking is to communicate ideas. And the goal of good public speaking is to communicate those ideas well. It’s not about the person; it’s about the ideas.

Whoa! It sounds obvious when you write it out like that … But I think those of us who are reluctant to speak publicly can get so caught up in our own anxiety that we forget that the goal is simply to communicate information effectively. Through that lens it became clear that we don’t want our own s**t — insecurity, anxiety, sweaty palms or frog-in-the-throat — to get in the way of the message. It’s not about you, on stage in front of a crowd being stared at; your body and voice are a vessel for conveying important information that your audience needs to hear. A simple idea with a whole host of implications!

When it came to individual feedback, interestingly, Wentz leaned toward the introspective. We have to clear out the issues that hold us back before we can move forward and get on with the important information we are trying to convey. With me, Wentz seemingly saw straight into my brain and called out the internal naysayer who critiques my sentence structure and questions my decision to speak at all. She advised me to tell him to stuff it. Her advice was on the nose. Now that I recognize that little stinker, I can tell him to take a hike when he pops up. He doesn’t get a voice. The information I’m trying to convey is too important.

The issues we in the sustainability community are trying to solve — climate change, poverty, access to water, health and education, to name a few — are much larger than any of us. Truth be told, they probably won’t be solved in the lifetime of anyone who is reading this right now. But yet we persevere. We’re brave and strong; we’re doing something we can’t not do. We shouldn’t let our neuroses hold us back.

Image credit: Flickr/Terren in Virginia

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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