'Speaking' About Flying: Yes, You Can Do This!

8:01 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.

Now that I've made the case that you can learn how to be an eloquent public speaker and become a vocal advocate for general aviation in front of non-flying audiences, let's begin to focus in on precisely how you do that while gaining maximum impact with minimum embarrassment.

The following tips were culled out of my past Toastmasters training, but also some very real-world speaking engagements that I've had. If you follow these tips and do nothing else, your brief moment as the star of the show in front of the room will be time well spent and most certainly will be a positive step forward for GA.

(1) Prep the speech: This part is easier than you think. Write down four things you love about flying, parts of your flying life you are most passionate about. Determine which is the most dramatic, and use it as your opening. Next, group the other three as the "body" of the speech, and then recap all four and close the speech with a conclusion that is both heartfelt and dramatic. Timing should be (based on a 15-minute speech) 3 minutes for the opening, 8 minutes for the body and 4 for the conclusion. Be sure not to use "jargon" that a non-flying audience will not understand. Say "I brought up the Automated Weather on my radio" instead of "I listened to ATIS." Keep sentences short and to the point.

(2) Practice: Your goal is to recite the speech without notes. I promise you this will be attainable because you are so passionate about the topic. Start with typed-out bullet points on one sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper, and work your way down to one or two 3 x 5 index cards, which you can still take with you even after you've committed the material to memory. Use a timer of some kind (cheapo kitchen timers are great for this) and practice until you can nail the speech within :15 seconds of the time allotted completely from memory. The absolute biggest mistake a speaker can make is to go over time...so get this part right. Some speakers like to practice in front of a full-length mirror. Trust me, you can never, ever practice public speaking enough. And your dog always makes a great test audience.

(3) Work on your stage presence: Untrained speakers all make the same rookie mistakes. They speak softly or stick one hand in their pants pocket and jingle their car keys. They rock from one foot to the other, and often stare at their shoes. So here's what you do to command the room: Speak loud with a clear, slow, audible voice projecting to the far last row in the audience. If they can hear you clearly, everyone can. Split the room into thirds horizontally and make one point or speak one sentence to the left third, looking directly at one audience member. Speak the next sentence or make the next point to the middle third of the room, again making eye contact with one person. Finish with the right-hand third of the room, and repeat throughout the speech, left, middle, right...always making eye contact. When you look at someone, you are speaking to them, and they will hang with you from that point forward. Keep looking at different people, lock eyes and speak one-on-one, and after a few rotations across the room, you'll have a very high percentage of the audience fully locked on to your words. Stand behind the lectern if there is one, but if not, and you can walk freely around the stage, taking a couple of small steps towards the third of the room you are addressing...it will feel much more personal for the audience.

(4) Follow the 'Rule of Three': Know your material, know the room and know the audience. Knowing the material is easy, it's hard-wired in your soul and you've pondered it completely when you prepped the speech in step one. But you also need to know the room, so get there early before the audience arrives, step behind the lectern, have the host turn on any lights that will be on during your speech. Test the microphone if using one...and if it's a wireless mic, put it on and make sure your clothing does not rub against it. Have the tech person adjust the volume to your voice to avoid embarrassing feedback mistakes. If you are using a Powerpoint-type computer presentation, leave time before the speech to plug your laptop into their system, hook up video and audio (if needed) and be sure everything is working well before the first audience member arrives. And last, know your audience. If it's all seniors, you might mention something about a relative of yours that was a WWII USAF veteran, or if it's the Active 20-30 club filled with young, upwardly mobile professionals, you might talk about how "cool" being a private pilot will look to their friends. Talk about stretching a sales territory to sales people, or explain how to get in a few extra rounds of golf by flying GA. Ditto for the Chamber of Commerce or Rotary, makes sure these audiences know the time savings gained by private air transportation, and how their business can gain a competitive advantage with corporate airplane. You cannot over-analyze an audience! Do your homework on them, drop names of their leaders and mention things you learned from those leaders by schmoozing them before the audience arrives.

(5) Kill the jitters: Relaxing during your speech is easy because an estimated 74% of the audience is already impressed with you simply because you're found the courage to be at the front of the room speaking in public. The other 26% really want you to succeed because they have been there too. Toastmasters taught me to address the audience and thank the hosts for the invitation to speak. Then, count one, two, three one-thousand to create a pause that refocuses the audience on you while you're transforming your nervous energy into unbridled enthusiasm. NEVER apologize for being nervous, and concentrate on your delivery as much as the material. Just slow down, and talk a bit about flying as if you were out at the airport enjoying a beer at the hangar.

And, that's all there is to it...sort of. If you seriously want to make a difference to help our aviation family grow, I strongly recommend the professional training found at your local Toastmasters International clubs...click here to find one in your area. Start small by honing these speaking skills at your local EAA chapter, in front of a friendly crowd. Once you have done that a couple of times, consider speaking to a class of middle school kids...they will love everything out of your mouth, you will be SOOO cool, I guarantee it. Then, when you have practiced the material and can speak with zero jitters, just land a speaking gig anywhere you can, and get after it.

Bottom line: Gain experience, because experience builds confidence, and confidence is the secret sauce of becoming an effective public speaker. But know this: Even if you suck up there, the vast majority of the audience will not even realize you are bombing, and everyone will be fascinated by the topic (flying) and will feel that listening to your speech was time well spent.  

You have nothing to lose, and GA has everything to gain.

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