Tips on presentation style, courtesy of Raquel Welch

It might be time to update your public speaking style, says Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

The Hollywood actor and sex symbol Raquel Welch might seem an unlikely source of wisdom for charity leaders, but in a recent interview she touched on an essential truth for us all.

Often dismissed as a bimbo, she was already a mother of two young children before she became famous. When stardom eventually arrived, she realised she was not being hired for her brain: it was her looks that were the key to providing for her children. So she resolved to look after herself physically over the years. "It's my job to look like Raquel Welch," she said.

This also applies to charity leaders, except that you probably don't have to wear a fur bikini (Sir Stephen Bubb, anyone?). You do, however, need to audit how you appear to other people.

Greatest speech ever

Take your public speaking style. Be honest: when you give talks, have you become a bit boring? Do you trot out the same old tosh each time? Your aim, when giving a speech, should be no less than to give the greatest speech the audience has ever heard.

The keys to speaking this well are preparation and risk. To prepare, I often rehearse in my mind exact phrases, tone and moments of dramatic emphasis. To keep content and style fresh, I rarely give the same speech twice, and I avoid notes, apart from a small cue card that I can hold in one hand.

Before key speeches, I even read or listen to recordings of speeches by great communicators such as Martin Luther King, Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama, and study how they used rallying calls, repetition, pauses and parables for maximum effect.

Out of your comfort zone

Finally, I always show my feelings. This is where the element of risk comes in, but you need to get out of your comfort zone: facts, figures and plans won't make an emotional connection with your audience.

Ditch those Powerpoint slides and instead prepare to show people why you care: tell the audience why they matter; tell them what upsets you; share stories of people whose lives have been changed; and use inspiring quotes or readings. By the end, you should have nothing left in the tank - give it everything you've got and you'll capture people's hearts.

Be just as passionate when addressing your staff or volunteers: give them pride in the charity's impact and tell them why they are brilliant; remind people of the obstacles they have overcome and that the greatest teams, when faced with reasons to give up, keep going and do it anyway; and tell them that when they look back years later, they can say to themselves "that was truly good, we were part of it and together we made a difference".

Is this all artifice? I don't think so: as Raquel would say, it's your job not only to be a leader of supreme quality, commitment and compassion, but also to look like one.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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