Helping an inexperienced speaker in your company

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This blog is prompted by a conversation with a friend, who holds a general mangers position. He met a woman who was asked to speak on a panel by an industry association. The woman was keen to speak however her boss, possibly the CEO declined her as a speaker. Instead he decided that he should go on the panel to speak. The main issue with this was that the industry Association had asked her specifically as a woman in a male dominated industry in an attempt to balance out the gender i.e. have gender diversity.

As my friend and I discussed the pros and cons of this move by the boss, my friend who was initially sympathetic to her; started to see it from the CEOs perspective. That she may not be qualified to speak on the subject or that someone better was able to speak in front of that audience and on that panel.  The friend reflected on his team and who he would want to speak.

The debate between us briefly continued, he had many staff who were not in a position to speak on behalf of their company. He stated that possibly some never would.  Of course being a public speaking coach I disagree. If someone is specifically asked they should be given the opportunity to speak. In all likelihood they will be nervous and may even be ready to say no themselves.  Part of good management is to encourage staff to take up these opportunities not take them away from them.

Because by denying a person particularly a woman who is a minority in an industry the opportunity to speak you are discriminating and holding their career back. So the question remains when is it okay to say no and when should a person say yes, but given some guidelines and provide those to that speaking opportunity. 

 A no should only come after consideration of the help to let them speak and the time available.  Maybe the person that thinks they should speak should be in attendance as a back up?

Help for a not yet qualified or experienced person

1.    Training in answering impromptu questions.

2.    Training in speaking / presentations.

3.    Parameters around what they are and aren’t allowed to answer or speak to.

4.    Briefing on how to deflect questions outside the area of expertise/ approved topics.

5.    Co-ordination with the panel convenors, event organiser or MC to ensure they assist the person and help keep to the parameters.

But they should be given parameters on what they can speak about what they can comment on. They should be given the opportunity to practice answers such as  “I’m not qualified to answer that question.” “I would prefer to refer that on to someone else on the panel.” and those sorts of situations.

Saying No is old school

Saying Noto a person that is inexperienced so that a more experienced or qualified person can take over so Old School. The days of only allowing the CEO / GM or Head of Comms to ever speak will create an internal environment of lack of trust and opportunity. Externally it may well bore the audience with the same face, but also doesn’t show a breadth and depth of experience that are expected of companies. 

Supporting and giving training to that person so they can make the most of the opportunity is the way to go.  You can’t expect a child to learn to ride a bike without the training wheels and some help. But once they have got the idea of how to move forward they need to learn to stop and turn, to go up hill and slow down on slopes. 

Public speaking is like riding a bicycle….

Public speaking skills are like riding a bike once you have learnt you can apply them to many situations (hills, flat, trails, footpaths) and made different styles (Raleigh 20, BMX, mountain or road bike).  If you stop using them you make get a little rusty but, public speaking is like riding a bike you don’t forget.

Yes the under qualified person may fall off, they may make a wrong turn, by saying something they shouldn’t.  But for the most part they will wobble along and get the job done.  They may not be the best person, the most qualified, but maybe they are there for different reasons.  Like our woman who was asked due to her being a female in a male dominated industry. Her perspective may have been more important that her knowledge of the facts.

Before you say no, or before you say no to a speaking opportunity for someone else, look at what it would take for a yes.