It’s been several months now, but I was invited by Bryan L. Crenshaw, southeast zone adviser of the Michigan District of Key Club International, to present two breakout sessions on public speaking and confidence building at the organization’s 2012 Fall Rally in Wayland. As a former club president and district board member, I was eager to give back to this next generation of leaders and (fingers crossed) association professionals.
If you’re not familiar, Key Club International is the oldest and largest service program for high school students. It’s a completely student-led organization that teaches leadership through service to others. Members of the Kiwanis International family include Kiwanis (adults), Circle K (college students) and Key Club. Ultimately, Key Club members build themselves as they build their schools and communities.
Although I regularly speak to the association community, this younger audience was a new challenge for me. The process began, as it usually does, with an engaging content outline comprising key talking points. It included a brief welcome, a small group discussion, a self-reflection activity and a progressive story-telling activity in which participants practiced their public speaking prowess.
Of the various activities and discussions, I found the self-reflection to be the most enlightening. The students were given an index card and were asked to write down their confidential responses to the following scenario: “You’ve been asked to deliver a speech at your senior graduation. What’s going to keep you up at night in the days leading up to this public speaking engagement?”
Near the end of each session we spent approximately 10 minutes pulling these index cards at random and addressing the various questions and concerns that arose from the students. Since then, I’ve had an opportunity to more closely review and aggregate these responses. Of the nearly 200 answers, the one garnering the top spot – appearing 28 different times – was a fear of messing up.
Following are the six other top vote getters:
- Writing and editing my speech – 16 responses
- Forgetting what to say – 15 responses
- Stuttering, slurring or mumbling – 14 responses
- Content not good – 13 responses
- Nerves – 12 responses
- Saying the wrong thing – 11 responses
In the middle of the pack, between two and eight people said each of the following:
- Won’t relate to everyone
- Mispronounce a word
- Not loud enough
- Audience too large
- Not breathing
- Freezing up
- Throwing up
- Audio/visual equipment not working
- Making a joke, but no one laughs
Finally, each of the following concerns garnered one mention each:
- Changing people’s perspectives
- Speaking with my hands
- Going off topic
- Not having eye contact
- Face breaking out
- Not getting a standing ovation
- Won’t practice/be ready
- Speaking in front of peers
- Not delivering speech well
- Physically shaking
- Voice shaking
- Talking too fast
- Talking too quietly
- Being booed
- Ruining friendships
- Going over/under time
So, my question to you is this: When it comes to your work (e.g., launching a new member product or service), do you have many of these same fears and concerns? How do you overcome them? In what ways do you and your organization create a culture that’s okay with “messing up”? What advice would you offer the next generation of leaders, college students and, ultimately, association professionals as they pursue their goals, dreams and interests?