Peter Cardy: Public speaking is just a performance

Peter Cardy

Q One thing I really dread about my job is having to speak in public. Face-to-face with anyone, I’m fine. Put me in front of an audience and I fall apart. Any advice?

A You can learn to love it. Remember you’ve got the platform or the microphone and your audience hasn’t, so they have to listen to you. Think of it as performance rather than being your everyday self. Take your time and remember that silence can be as powerful as talk. Make a note of your key points or write a script in big print, and don’t be timid about looking at it when you’re speaking. When you gain some confidence, you can inject some humour if you like, but you’ll get the applause anyway. There are lots of courses available, so why not use them? And if all else fails, you could try my remedy: a triple vodka, gin or tequila in the water glass on the lectern.

Q A director who has access to the bank account pointed out that the treasurer had withdrawn thousands of pounds, and asked why. The bookkeeper/treasurer said it was a combination of a refund of out-of-pocket expenses and payments for some of his time. But he hasn’t produced an invoice or expenses claim, which would normally be countersigned by another director. When challenged, he became defensive and said the company owed it to him and he wasn’t obliged to submit any paperwork. Any thoughts?

A Without evidence that the money has been spent or is owed, it seems as if your bookkeeper/treasurer has taken money that doesn’t belong to him. You should start proceedings to recover the funds – this might have the effect of producing a repayment before entailing legal costs. While you’re tidying up, you’ll want to change the banking arrangements and terminate the appointment of your wayward director.

Q Are you surprised by reports in the media that charity boards are less diverse than FTSE 100 firm boards?

A Honestly, no. I’m amazed how many boards can’t kick the habit of going for people they know, which of course means more people like us. Lack of imagination? Insecurity? Lack of energy? I’m fed up of saying that there are better ways than tapping your friends on the shoulder, and they deliver better boards.

Q I am part of a senior management team of six that functions well, but one of the six is combative and argumentative and sometimes seems to be contrary for the sake of it. He says he’s playing devil’s advocate. The boss doesn’t seem to mind. What should I do?

A If your colleague is as much of a distraction to the team as you suggest, I’m afraid you will have to gang up on the boss. It is her job as leader of the team to bring the dissident into line.

Q At our AGM it was pointed out that the same local auditors had been doing the job for more than 10 years and the work had never been tendered. The board said it had done a good job at reasonable cost. Is this acceptable practice?

A Complacent or what? The board can’t have noticed the string of audit cock-ups by firms big enough to know better. And if the big four can mess up, so can the small ones. It is basic good practice to put the contract out for tender at sensible intervals – and more than 10 years is not sensible. Push the board hard.

Q What do you think of this year’s spate of chief executive resignations over scandals that didn’t happen on their watch?

A More chairs and trustees should have fallen on their swords. If they were doing their jobs properly they would have seen things were going wrong. I wonder why they allowed their chief executives to be the sacrificial lambs. But for the chief executive, even if personally blameless, trying to rehabilitate the reputation of the charity with such a burden hanging over you is like Sisyphus pushing the same boulder uphill every day. Getting out might seem like a very attractive alternative. An unpleasant aspect is that, by resigning honourably, the CEOs allow the implication of guilt to stick. How unlike the disgusting behaviour in the corporate sector of rewarding stupidity and greed.

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