Presentations: New UNC Chief Tom Ross Connects With Speeches: Public Speaking
Tom Ross, the new president of the University of NC system once led a foundation in my home city of Winston-Salem and he demonstrated how anyone who speaks… whether to civic clubs or much larger audiences… should connect to those in the audience with the content. This is what I wrote about Tom in 2006 and it is still important today….
You hear significant speeches occasionally if you belong to a civic club. Not knock ‘em dead, professional-speaker quality, but heart-felt or informational talks about something you didn’t know or appreciate. I remember: a cancer specialist describing new research offering more hope for sufferers and a researcher revealing that Americans have more inflammatory diseases (atherosclerosis, arthritis, asthma, allergies, etc.) than ever in spite of our safer environment. (Did you know that peanut allergies did not plague children before 1960?)
Unfortunately civic clubs also have speeches so boring they make “watching grass grow” a thrilling alternative. You struggle to stay conscious as you listen. I remember: someone actually giving a mind-numbing slide show of a personal trip, and a state education leader trying to inspire public support while communicating with the energy of a turnip and showing nearly unfathomable densely packed PowerPoint slides. And I can’t count the number of nonprofit leaders talking only about themselves.
I think civic clubs themselves often set the trap for invited speakers to fail. They say, “Come on over and tell us about your group or business.” Then, by gosh, that is exactly what the speaker often does.
While Toastmasters or speaking lessons before approaching the podium is always best, there is one single thing all amateur presenters can do to succeed, including those who feel compelled to read every word and even those who fear speaking. Write the speech to benefit the listeners more than yourself. Paraphrasing James Carville, “It’s the audience, stupid!”
Tom Ross, president of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in North Carolina struck that balance in a civic club speech recently. He talked about the foundation, but cannily interwove issues affecting all of us.
*He told how 8 of the 12 counties in this region exceed limits on ozone and two even fail the standards for soot. The Greensoro, Charlotte and Raleigh regions of NC are in the top 25 worst metro areas for ozone pollution. Child asthma rates are soaring.
*Ross said the population of this region is projected to grow 50% in the next 25 years causing genuine concerns not just about clean air, but enough clean water and open space.
*A lot of those new faces will be Hispanic. The Hispanic/Latino population in NC jumped 400% in the past 10 years (440% in the schools). By the year 2050 there will be more Hispanics and African-Americans combined than the number of Caucasians in NC. Race and culture are very much alive, and Ross said we need to overcome differences and build a society of tolerance.
*We need jobs. Between 2000 and 2004 the Triad lost 44,000 jobs and more than half in manufacturing.
For every issue raised, he explained plans by his organization to help. He coupled the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to challenges that touch us where we live. Thus, his presentation mattered. While not flashy, Tom Ross was comfortable and serious. You walk away from such speeches knowing more than when you arrived, and you care.
Most business professionals know they should improve their speeches through storytelling, humor, and trying to speak from bullet points. They know such presentations are more powerful and persuasive leaders must be persuasive communicators.
Frankly speaking, pardon the pun, some professionals don’t have the time or inclination to invest in public speaking or they speak so seldom that it hardly seems worth it. If that describes you, then the bottom line is a speech that benefits the audience above all else. One helpful gimmick I learned from a pro to check audience focus is to count how often the speech uses the word “you” and how often it contains “I” or “we”. “You” should dominate.
Hey, civic clubs don’t expect Jay Leno; so relax, be yourself, and give them something worth chewing on. Sure beats watching grass grow.