I’m a Grant Professional so I Don’t Need to Worry about Public Speaking

Feb 22, 2021

“But, I’m a grant professional, I don’t need to worry about public speaking. That’s why I chose this profession, so I could sit in my office and do research and write all day. I am not the one who has to talk to funders”……or are you?

As a grant professional, there may be many times when you will have to worry about public speaking, whether it’s one-on-one or to a crowd.

A savvy grant professional will need to talk to funders before writing a grant proposal—to find out what the funder is looking for, to clarify requirements, or to introduce the organization to the funder. And later, after the proposal is being considered, the funder may want to talk to you or have a site visit.

Then of course, once the grant is funded, there might be more conversations with the funder to report on progress. And if your proposal is not funded, it is really critical that you are comfortable talking to the funder to find out why the grant was not funded.

Okay, so you’re comfortable with all of this one-on-one stuff, but speaking in front of a group – now that’s a different story. You may be wondering when you would need to speak in front of a group. Well, there might be several occasions for you to do so.

  • You may be asked to make a presentation at a staff or board meeting about the proposals you've written or perhaps on how your board and staff members can help with the grants process.
  • You might even be asked to assume a broader development role. Directors of development are often asked to make presentations to groups of people—funders, media, board, and staff.
  • You might even like to do a presentation at a GPA conference or AFP meeting.

Did you know that public speaking ranks even higher than death when people are asked about their biggest fear? Why are so many people frightened about public speaking? Are you one of those people who rank public speaking higher than death on your list of fears? Do your knees quiver, your tongue gets tied and your lips seem to freeze? If so, there are some ways to ease your fears and even make you a pro at public speaking.

Know Your Topic and Your Audience

The first thing to remember is never let yourself be put in a situation where you are asked to speak about a subject matter with which you don’t feel comfortable. This is the worst cause of panic in people when they speak in front of groups—they’re afraid they don’t know more than the audience. Remember that if you are talking about something you do day in and day out, you are likely to know more about the topic than anyone in your audience. This alone should put you more at ease!

If you are asked to speak at a conference, you should ask if the audience will be made up of beginner, intermediate, or seasoned professionals. Make sure you feel comfortable talking in front of the group you are addressing. Many conferences will ask you what your desired audience is when you submit a proposal to speak. Before you get there, find out if your host group is taking care of things such as evaluations, handouts, equipment, and water for your guests. This should be done before you arrive, so you know if you have to bring anything.

Take a Lesson from the Boy Scouts – Be Prepared

The next thing to do is prepare your presentation. Even if you've done a lot of speaking and think you know the topic well, make sure you’re prepared. The best way to do this is to make certain you know what your audience is expecting. Find out as much as you can about them.

Also, if possible, check out the facility in advance. Get there early and check the set up for audio visuals, the way the audience is seated, etc.  And be sure there is water at the podium. If you feel more comfortable walking around the room, make sure there is a lavaliere mike. The audience will relate better if you walk around or stand close to them without a podium between you and the audience.

I personally hate speaking from a stage because it separates me from the audience. Unless the audience is very large and won’t be able to see you unless you’re on stage, try to get up close and personal with them. And if time permits, try to stand at the back of the room as people are entering so that you can introduce yourself to the audience before your presentation. It will put them and you more at ease.

Dress professionally but comfortably. Be especially cautious to wear comfortable shoes and no noisy jewelry or flowing scarves which could distract people or even get in the way sometimes.

Know How to Use Your Visual Aids

PowerPoint can be a huge help to speakers but be careful how you use it. Make sure you use fonts and colors that are easy to read from the back of the room. Don’t put too many words on any one slide. If you use transitions, videos, screen shots, etc., be sure you understand how they work.  And if you need an Internet connection, make certain one will be available in the room before you arrive.

Also, be sure your laptop is positioned so you can easily see it while you're presenting. You don’t want to be turning your back on the audience while you’re speaking in order to look at the screen. This same point also goes for flip charts.  You should learn to write from the side of the chart or plan to ask an audience member to participate by writing on the flip chart.

Use your PowerPoint as an outline for your presentation. Way back, before PowerPoint (yes, I’ve been presenting for a long time), I used to make 3 x 5 file cards with the key points I wanted to cover so I didn’t forget anything. Now I use PowerPoints for that purpose.

Don’t Read to Your Audience

The worst thing you can do is read all your PowerPoint slides to the audience.  The same goes for handouts. Don’t read them to the audience. They can read for themselves. Handouts should be takeaways for people to refer to later unless they are part of an exercise through which you will lead the group.

If people don’t have the PowerPoint printed out, let them know whether or not it will be available after the presentation. It will save them from having to take copious notes which would prevent them from paying attention to you. And if you’re providing handouts, have them collated ahead of time and see if you can enlist the host or some audience members to help distribute them before you start, as you go, or at the end of the presentation, whichever is appropriate.

Rehearse Your Presentation

Rehearse your presentation beforehand. You can have someone videotape you, or you can do it front of a mirror. You can even ask co-workers or family members to listen to you and give honest critiques. You might find it hard to get good feedback but let them know you want to be really good when you deliver your presentation to the real audience. So, assure them that their input is critical. Whichever rehearsal method you use, watch for things like excessive hand movements, using “um” and “er” a lot, bad grammar, mispronounced words, etc.

Be sure to rehearse the timing. If you are doing a ninety-minute workshop, there will probably be at least five minutes for people to get settled in and for a speaker host to introduce you. You should plan plenty of time for Q & A at the end. So, you should plan for your ninety-minute presentation to become seventy-five minutes at the most.

I find it helpful to print out my presentation and mark timelines on the printout. If I have twenty-five slides for a ninety-minute presentation (remember it is usually seventy-five minutes) then each slide needs to take no longer than three minutes. Of course, some slides might need more time than others, so mark the timing down after you've rehearsed.

Get Help

There are many more hints on speaking that you can learn from pros. Some resources you might consider using include:

  • Signing up at your local community college for a public speaking course.
  • Applying for the AFP’s Faculty Training Academy (if you’re a member) which is usually held at the annual international conference.
  • Checking into getting a public speaking coach.

To learn more about getting started in or advancing in your career, take my course, Fundraising as a Career. Sign up here

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