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Speaking at a Public Meeting: A Guide for Presenters

May 7, 2014
by Jacque Porte
IQM2 Sales & Marketing

For many people, there is nothing more nerve-wracking than speaking in front of a group of people. You may, however, be called upon to do so if you work in or with the public sector. This presentation will likely be in front of a board or committee, as well as members of the public, and you’ll likely be fielding questions from both board members and citizens. Here you’ll find some handy tips for ensuring your presentation is a successful one.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Create your presentation, refine your information, practice your speech, get feedback, and revise accordingly. Your careful preparation will show in your presentation, and will also help familiarize you with your subject matter.

Submit your report. Give board members ample time to review your report beforehand. You can submit your report in advance to the clerk, who will place it on the agenda or distribute it to the board members for their review. This will also allow the board members and others to make copies for you to refer to during your presentation.

Get your moment. Your company may have been invited to speak, or you may be presenting as part of the public comments section, but regardless, you should make sure you are following the appropriate procedure for speaking at a public meeting. These rules vary by organization and are typically listed on the agency’s website.

Stick to your time limit. You may find your time is limited. Public speakers typically receive three to five minutes, though presenters often receive more time to give their reports. Identify how long you will be able to speak and practice your presentation to ensure it fits within the allotted time. Keeping your presentation short and sweet will allow you to present your information and maintain the interest of your listeners.

Address the board members, not the audience. The board members are representatives from the community, and therefore listen and speak on the community’s behalf.

Speak into the microphone. Your presentation may include slides or references that may take you away from the podium, but always remember to speak into the microphone so that those present, as well as those who might listen to the recorded meeting, can hear you.

Exude confidence. This can a difficult task for any public speaker, but your point will be best received when you appear to be confident about your report and about your work. Make eye contact with your listeners, maintain high energy, avoid touching your face, and make sure you speak clearly and deliberately.

Avoid T-Rex Arms. The folks at Prezi describes T-Rex arms as “When someone holds their arms in close to their sides with their wrists bent... All hand movements are made in a range of motion that keeps the elbow pinned to the ribs.” These small-scale gestures can make the presenter appear uncomfortable or worse, disingenuous. Instead, use large gestures to add importance to your main talking points and redirect the audience’s focus.

Do not read from your slides. If you have supplemental information such as slides or posters, refrain from reading the text aloud. When designing this information, avoid adding too much text so your audience will not be tempted to read rather than listen. Also, try to avoid referring to this information as the basis for your presentation.

Do not interrupt. This applies to comments by board members and citizens. Tensions may run high, especially for those invested in the issue. Be sure to remain calm and take careful notes so you can address all of the points made or questions posed by a speaker.

Stick to this guide and your presentation is sure to be a success!

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