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Public Speaking Handbook
Public Speaking Handbook 24
Public Speaking Handbook
A toolkit for advocates and volunteers to use in preparation
for public speaking engagements.
Vermont and Montana
advocates: before using
this guide, please contact
your state outreach staff to
coordinate with ongoing
www.CompassionAndChoices.org 1-800-247-7421 Public Speaking and You
As an ambassador for Compassion & Choices, you have a
unique and important role in educating your community and
building support for the organization and the movement.
Although a good video, a great website or strong print pieces like the
quarterly magazine are excellent communications vehicles to tell our
story, there is simply no substitute for a personal presentation by a
passionate and knowledgeable supporter like you
Throughout this guide you will find helpful tips for preparing your
presentation and best practices for public speaking. You will also
discover resources for staying up-to-date on the always-changing
legal, social and political landscape of death with dignity and end-of-
Even if you consider yourself a pro, this guide can serve as a helpful
reminder of how to put your best foot forward
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.1 Messaging 101
At the end of the day, public speaking is about delivering a message. When you are
speaking on behalf of Compassion & Choices, that message should combine fact-
based arguments about end-of-life choice and aid in dying with details about
Compassion & Choices as an organization. Be sure that you are delivering accurate
information and a consistent message. Information on state campaigns, national news
stories and organizational developments is available on the website at
www.CompassionAndChoices.org. Your main C&C contact is also a good source for
the most recent updates.
Top-Tier Messaging Points:
A tip for every occasion: Language Matters
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.2 Tips from Toastmasters
10 Tips for Public Speaking
Toastmasters is widely considered one of the best resources for improving public
speaking skills. Feeling some nervousness before giving a speech is natural and even
beneficial, but too much nervousness can be detrimental. Here are some proven tips
on how to control your butterflies and help you give better presentations:
• 1. Know your material. Pick a topic you are interested in. Know more about it
than you include in your speech. Use humor, personal stories and conversational
language – that way you won’t easily forget what to say.
• 2. Practice. Practice. Practice Rehearse out loud with all the equipment you
plan on using. Revise as necessary. Work to control filler words; Practice, pause
and breathe. Practice with a timer and allow time for the unexpected.
• 3. Know the audience. Greet some of the audience members as they arrive. It’s
easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers.
• 4. Know the room. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice
using the microphone and any visual aids.
• 5. Relax. Begin by addressing the audience. It buys you time and calms your
nerves. Pause, smile and count to three before saying anything. ("One one-
thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. Pause. Begin.) Transform
nervous energy into enthusiasm.
• 6. Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice
loud, clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping – it will boost your
• 7. Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be
interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They’re rooting for you.
• 8. Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problem – the audience probably
never noticed it.
• 9. Concentrate on the message – not the medium. Focus your attention away
from your own anxieties, and concentrate on your message and your audience.
• 10. Gain experience. Mainly, your speech should represent you — as an
authority and as a person. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to
effective speaking. A Toastmasters club can provide the experience you need in a
safe and friendly environment.
Visit the Toastmasters website for additional resources: http://www.toastmasters.org
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.3 Best Practices
Everyone has a different approach to, and a different comfort level for, public speaking. Whether
you are an old hand who’s comfortable in front of a crowd, or new to the art of presentation,
these best practices are designed to give you confidence in putting your best foot forward. While
these pointers are pretty reliable, there is an exception to every rule, and sometimes an event
will require a different format. Check with a Compassion & Choices staff person or senior
volunteer if you have any questions.
Most often, Compassion & Choices speakers will either be part of a panel discussion with
a few speakers, or will be making a solo presentation to a group. For both these formats
you will generally be relying on the same content. The main difference is that when
presenting solo, you are in control of how and when you deliver each point. If you are
speaking on a panel, you will make your points as they become relevant to the
For solo presentations, the two most commonly requested formats are 20 minutes and
45 minutes. Presentations longer than 45 minutes risk losing the audience’s attention and
are generally not as effective as shorter presentations.
Be respectful of your audience’s time. For example, if you are asked to speak for a half
hour, keep your presentation to 20 minutes, and allow time for a Q&A session or to greet
attendees one-on-one after your talk.
Make it intimate:
Face your audience, make eye contact and ensure they are “with” you. Pause between
your major points, and remember to pace yourself. Often, as speakers become more
comfortable with their presentation and delivery style, they develop a tendency to talk
faster. While speaking quickly may show enthusiasm, it can also reduce your audience’s
comprehension of what you are saying.
Keep it natural:
Although notes are a helpful tool for delivering a presentation, it is not a good idea to
read a speech verbatim from notes. Reading generally sounds stilted and unconvincing,
and can convey a lack of enthusiasm for the subject. Instead, consider using index cards
to remind you of your most important points. With a little practice you’ll be able to deliver
some of the details by memory.
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.4 More Best Practices
Know your panelists or co-presenters:
If the invitation is for a debate or panel discussion, find out who the other panel
members will be. Go online to your local newspaper to find articles about the other
participants or to see whether they have written letters to the editor about
controversial topics. Conduct a “Google” search to expand your background check,
and don’t forget to contact Compassion & Choices staff, who can access a database
with information about many of the players. If you find anything of concern, consult
with Compassion & Choices staff.
A presentation is more effective when the audience can identify with the presenter.
For that reason, whenever possible, we try to provide a speaker who will be
perceived as a peer—a nurse may have a greater impact speaking to nurses, etc.
Confidentiality is key:
Personal stories are often the most moving and effective parts of a presentation.
Remember, however, that there are important limits on what can be shared publicly. It
is critical to make sure that you have permission to share a personal story, a name,
or any details about an individual. If you have any doubt: leave it out Better to leave
out a few details than to violate the trust of a Compassion & Choices client.
Stay away from personal healthcare specifics:
Avoid the natural tendency to offer help when questions
are asked about individual cases or situations.
If the question involves someone who is terminally ill and is looking for
information on their options they should be referred to our End-of-Life
Consultation (EOLC) team at 1-800-247-7421.
Never discuss methods that are used to hasten death, and avoid
commenting on whether one method is preferred over another.
Instead, tell the audience that our EOLC team works one-on-one with
our clients, helping them explore the options that are best for them
based on their particular situation, and that our official policy is to refer
potential clients directly to the EOLC program.
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.5 Even More Best Practices
Don’t Take it Personally
When a member of the audience disagrees with something that has been
said, or disagrees with our organization in general, don’t take it personally.
Stay level-headed and be generous with those who disagree with you. Don't
try to talk someone out of their position or get dragged into arguments or
debates. Remember that time you spend arguing with someone who doesn’t
agree is time you are not spending engaging those who are open to support
Rather than belaboring a point, try this simple pivot: “We appear to disagree
on this point, but this isn’t the time for an extended debate on this one issue,
so I’m going to take another question. Thank you for your thoughts....”
Always have the freshest information:
Death-With-Dignity legislation, legal action and movement building are
happening faster and faster. Before your presentation, always visit the
national website, www.CompassionAndChoices.org, and check for the latest
information and developments that may be happening in Congress, in the
courts, in state legislatures and even locally in your area.
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.6 Using Technology Wisely
Although visual aides, video, and audio amplification can enhance our
presentations, they require management before and during a speaking
engagement. Some use of visual tools, like a Powerpoint presentation, is
recommended, but try and stick to these basic guidelines:
1. Don’t write your script on the slides. Only include the basic points and
headlines (this will also help you avoid “reading” your slides).
2. Use primarily images and pictures in your slides…people came to listen
and learn, not to read.
3. Always look at the audience, not at the screen, while you are speaking.
4. If you are using video, either embedded within a presentation, or as a
stand-alone piece, be sure to properly introduce what you are about to
show, and manage the transfer of attention from you to the screen, and
Using a microphone:
Some speaking engagements require the use of a microphone, specifically if the
auditorium is large or if the presentation is being recorded. Here are a few
pointers for using a microphone effectively:
• To gauge your correct speaking volume in an informal engagement, ask the
audience (through the microphone) if you are too loud or too soft—they will
• Put your lips as close to the microphone as possible; your audience will hear
you much more clearly that way.
• If the microphone is on a podium, remember to speak directly into it.
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.7 Public Speaking Checklist
Here is a basic checklist with steps to consider for a good public
speaking experience. Your own personal touch is indispensible, but if
you can check all these boxes you can be confident you are ready to go.
Make sure you have the necessary background about the speaking opportunity: Be sure
you understand the context, format, and purpose of your appearance, along with the duration
of your presentation and any other details you can learn in advance.
Logistics: Double check that you know where the event is located—including directions for
parking—how you will travel to and from the site, and what your total travel time should be.
Technology: Be prepared with any video assets you may need (DVD, Powerpoint or other
presentation, etc.), and be sure that video assets are desired and appropriate for the particular
event. In advance of the presentation, verify that the required equipment will be available to
you onsite. Ask if you will be using a microphone or if a microphone is required.
Learn about your audience: Consider who will be in the room and what they are most likely
to respond to. An audience of nurses or medical students will have different interests than
residents at a senior’s center. Make a list of the main points likely to be of interest to this
Customize your presentation: Most speakers have a standard go-to presentation that they
are confortable giving. This is an important beginning, but your presentation should always be
customized to include specific information to suit each audience and the particular location
(relevant information may change by city or state).
Top three points: Whatever the context or format, you should be clear on the main thrust of
your presentation. Identify and articulate three main points that are a good fit for a particular
presentation, and refer to those points throughout the presentation.
Local connection: Always try to include specific information with a local connection—a story
about someone from the local community or a recent update that has significance to the area
or group you are addressing.
Personal stories: Including a personal story is a powerful tool in any presentation. Whether
you are talking about Brittany Maynard, Barbara Mancini, someone else you may know about,
or yourself, real life stories will keep your audience connected to the issues. Remember to tell
other people’s stories carefully, and check that it’s OK to share details.
PRACTICE: Even if you have given your presentation many times, each situation is unique.
Do at least one run-through to incorporate your local connections, personal stories and your
top three points.
Materials from Compassion & Choices: Always bring some materials to offer to your
audience: Quarterly Magazine, Palm Card, local/state flyer or brochure or promotion for
upcoming local events.
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.8 Considering an Invitation
Whether Compassion & Choices has asked you to fill a speaking
request they have received, or you are pursuing a speaking opportunity
on behalf of the organization, always review the specifics of the event
and verify that you are the right person for the job. If you have any
doubts or concerns, discuss them with Compassion & Choices staff.
Here are some good questions to ask:
1. Do you have the knowledge and expertise necessary for this particular
2. Do you have sufficient time in your schedule to travel to and from the
event AND to adequately prepare for the presentation beforehand?
3. Is somebody else obviously better positioned for this particular
presentation than you are?
4. Do you want to do the presentation, or would you rather pass? (Don’t
let guilt lead you to do something that isn’t a good fit for you.)
5. Is there anything about the event, the organization, or other presenters
that could be damaging or awkward for Compassion & Choices?
6. Are you speaking to your peers? Most people are more open to a
message from a peer than from someone outside their circle: For
example, a nurse is best positioned to speak to an audience of nurses.
The Right Balance for Using Humor
Humor is a very important tool in public speaking. It puts people at ease, makes the
content more accessible and is a great way to keep your audience engaged.
Because of the subject matter that we deal with, it is critical that you take extra care
in deploying humor. While humor remains an important tool that you are encouraged
to use, make sure that you avoid offending your audience or making light of
someone else’s difficult experiences.
If you have a funny line or story to use, try it out on a few friends or family members
first to see if anyone has a negative response. Their feedback will give you a good
read on the appropriateness of your joke.
Compassion & Choices: Public Speaking Handbook p.9