Don’t embarrass your mother and other thoughts on effective communication

This afternoon I am talking to the local Women’s Institute (WI) group about ABC to read, the literacy charity of which I am a trustee. It’s a chance to spread the word about the work we do to change children’s lives by supporting them to develop their literacy skills.

As with many small organisations, we rely heavily on volunteers to do the work we do. Our volunteers are amazing people who give up their time every week to work with children in primary schools all over Berkshire. I am hoping that some of the ladies at today’s WI meeting will be so moved by what we do that they will want to volunteer for us too. If volunteering in a school is not for them, I would like them to know about other ways in which they can choose to support us.

Like all good communicators, when thinking about my presentation for today, I started with my purpose and desired outcome. On the face of it, my aim is to encourage volunteers and to share information about other ways to support us. However, it turns out that my main aim in this particular instance is not to embarrass my mother, who is the treasurer for the group and has recommended me as a speaker today. It is an odd situation to find myself in; I’m fairly sure that this is one of the first times in my life when I’ve been worried about me embarrassing her, rather than the other way round!

On the other hand, having an insider in the group is really useful from the point of view of planning what I’m going to say. As always, a key consideration has been my audience – who are they, what are they interested in, what other topics have interested them and so on. Since she’s a member of the group, Mum has been able to give me some useful advice. I’ve been able to pick out particular aspects of the work that ABC to read does which I think will interest my audience.

She also asked me to put in a few jokes, so I’ve done that too!

When you believe passionately in a cause, like I do with developing the literacy skills that children need to lead happy and fulfilled lives, it can be easy to think only of what you want to say. Enthusiasm for your subject is powerful in a presenter, but I also had to remember to include some independent evidence of the need for our work. And if I am asking for people to volunteer, they need to know what is involved and what is in it for them. Simply standing up and saying “children deserve more, come and help us” is not going to be enough.

So hopefully, having given thought to my audience and the messages that will help them to see the benefit of our work and encourage them to get involved, I should be a hit at this afternoon’s WI. And almost more importantly, I hope I’ll get a few laughs for my jokes and won’t show my mum up! Wish me luck….

Until next time

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