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Achieving an 'A' in Communication
for Your Volunteer Program

by Dale Rees-Bevan

"I would rather die than stand up and speak in public," is the faltering battle cry with which we represent our organisations. Most of us go through life with the view that you either can or you can't. Speak in public, that is. It's high time we changed that perception and realized that, as with so many things in life, it's a skill that can be learned, worked on, acquired.

The value we bring to an organisation depends on our communication, and more specifically, our public speaking skills. This is particularly true for volunteer program managers, who are often responsible for making presentations in the hope of attracting new volunteers to their program. If we can represent our organisation competently and enthusiastically, we can contribute more powerfully. Achievement depends on getting an A in Communication Skills !

Here are some "A's" in Public Speaking to mull over:


Whether you're on TV or at a friend's BBQ, you are your organisation's best advocate at that time and place. So, when you're asked what your organisation does, or why you got involved, you should have an articulate and inspiring answer ready.

Preparation is the key to good public speaking, so why not have your pitch ready for the next occasion? That means today, because you don't know who you're going to be chatting to later on and if they might be able to help. If you've prepared your pitch, then you might be about to entice another great volunteer, or secure a fantastic sponsorship.

An ideal short speech should have a story which hooks the listener. When I talk about the school programmes for public speaking, I tell the story about Daniel who was not an academic, who couldn't sit still in class and who was in trouble with the police - on a weekly basis. However, once he started attending our public speaking workshops, he discovered he could hold an audience and could articulate his ideas well. His confidence increased, he began to take school more seriously and in fact, was chosen to represent his school in the final competition. His mother phoned us up sobbing, saying "It's the first time Daniel hasn't been in trouble and has actually succeeded at something."

Hook with a story

So, take an individual story, incident or example of how your organisation has touched a life. Let those you are speaking to learn directly of the impact volunteer work in your agency makes through a real life example. People respond to a story more than they do facts and figures, and need to imagine the impact on one person before they can see the bigger picture.

Three main points

Now you have them hooked, you can move onto telling them about the bigger picture of your organisation and try to narrow it down to three main points.

These could include:

  • The number of people you support .
  • The size of the projects you run .
  • The number of the geographical areas you operate across .
  • The amount of funds you raise (and require) .
  • The most significant outcomes you achieve

Whatever you think best describes the impact of the work that your organisation does.

Connect with your audience

Finally, sell it to the individual you're talking to. Summarise the effects in terms THEY can feel. If you're on TV, make an appeal for sponsorship AND volunteers, explaining how each would contribute. If you're talking to an individual, outline what skills they could bring to the organisation. If neither applies, simply radiate the enjoyment you experience and the satisfaction you get and use the opportunity to practice your pitch. At the very least, you might have inspired a small donation from the individual!


Having our colleagues appreciate our contribution is a huge step towards the operation of an efficient and enthusiastic team.

Public speaking is a skill that teaches us to marshal our thoughts and express ourselves in an organized and comprehensive manner. So often we'd like to pay a compliment, but aren't sure how to put it across well. We have birthday parties, staff drinks, leaving parties, joining parties and we muddle through with a clumsy, half-hearted "I'd like to say a few words" which leaves everyone cringing. These are our opportunities to show leadership and more importantly demonstrate the value we place on our staff and volunteers.

A little preparation goes a LONG way. Think about precise contributions the person has made, develop little anecdotes and build them up to show the individual as the hero they are. Use these opportunities to remind others why we do what we do and what can be done to increase our contribution. Oh sure, the individual will act completely embarrassed, but the red cheeks are the product of the glowing embers of enthusiasm fired up by your praise.

Your gift to that person and the organisation is your careful preparation. That alone demonstrates how much value you place on their contribution, their personality and their skills.


How can we expect anyone else to support our cause if we don't represent it with authority? Our speech is our main advertisement - our credibility, our conviction, our understanding of the organisation - these are all evidenced by the competence of our speaking. If we cannot talk about our experience of the organisation with confidence and conviction, how can we expect others to come aboard?

Please don't get me wrong - I don't want to frighten you into silence! On the contrary, go back to the first A - Advocacy. Do your preparation. Be the best advertisement you can be. Fight for your cause - with your voice. Order your thoughts, think of your story - champion the work that is being done and not only will your organisation benefit from your public speaking; you will personally feel an increase in your own value to the organisation.

Public speaking confidence is a process.

Every time you present a little talk (or a lengthy seminar!) you will make mistakes and learn from them. The secret is to be able to look at what areas could be improved, but not to see those as the overall measure of the speech. Most people are happy to overlook minor glitches and probably won't even notice that you left out some bits of information that you wanted to include. Pick yourself up, dust off the annoyance at the mistakes you made and go home to practice, practice, practice for the next one. Great orators can be made and your time and effort in preparation will show. Success will breed confidence and with each talk, you will feel better and become more competent.

Let's hear your experiences about public speaking

  • Do you have any great tips to share?
  • Any significant success stories?
  • How has improved public speaking led to more volunteers?
  • What are the things that most hold you back?

Copyright 2003 - 2007 OzVPM. Reprinted with permission

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About the Author:

Dale Rees-Bevan was a director on the board of SpeakersBank in the United Kingdom before moving to Australia to set up SpeakersBank Australia Incorporated. She has been both coaching individuals and running public speaking courses since 1993. Her enthusiastic and encouraging manner has brought confidence and a voice to her course participants.

This article originally appeared as a "Hot Topic" on the OzVPM website, which focuses on volunteerism, as it relates to the Australasian region.

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