Skip to main content

Stand and deliver: Teaching public speaking to volunteers

24 May 2011

Your supporters' stories can be a powerful tool for raising awareness and encouraging support – especially when volunteers talk about their experiences in person. But how can you prepare volunteers to speak on your charity’s behalf in public, perhaps for the first time?

Presenting effectively is important to the success of the St Columba's Hospice Schools Group, which I co-ordinate. Volunteers are invited to speak at school assemblies, talk to classes, accept donations and welcome groups of children to the Hospice.

Although the principles of effective presenting apply in any circumstance, training people who may not have spoken in public to deliver a fundraising message presents a unique set of challenges.

You need to make a realistic assessment of your volunteers as communicators, evaluating natural style, strengths and weaknesses. In training volunteers, my objective is not to create a rigid and inflexible house style but to help them to be the best "them" possible when representing their charity, to deliver a consistent message and to match volunteers to opportunities. Some, for example, would be top of the list for small school visits, while others are better suited to secondary school assemblies.


Presentation skills training is a wide area encompassing many topics, but always focus on the first golden rule: outline what you're going to tell the audience, tell them it, then tell them what you've told them. It sounds obvious, but there must be a beginning, middle and end. It helps structure a talk, and if a couple of minutes have to be shaved off, detail in the middle can be cut without losing the sense of the presentation.

The introduction is an opportunity to make an impression. How do you stimulate interest? The speaker needs to make clear why they are talking about the subject, as well as being credible and engaging. Having got the audience's attention, the speaker should give a brief overview of what will be covered –a route map for the audience to follow. For example: "this morning I am going to talk about three things: how the Hospice started and what it does, where your fundraising money goes and finally a little bit about the rebuild campaign". This structure makes it easier for the audience to listen, which makes it easier to get the message across.


Having given the audience the map to follow, points must be made in the order outlined. Never introduce new material near the end, as this will confuse listeners and muddy the basic message. Move clearly from one point to the next.

When concluding, the final words should be concise and make a strong impact. Paraphrase earlier points and avoid two common errors: don't say "let me conclude…" then continue to speak for a long time,  and don't say "oh, I should just mention…" if something has been forgotten. It is confusing. Leave it out or introduce it during questions.

Linsay Black

owner, Blackharrow Marketing Communication

Linsay has over 25 years of public relations and media training experience, working with a range of organisations from large corporates (BT, Wang) to professional firms (Clifford Chance, KPMG) and SMEsLinsay has over 25 years of public relations and media training experience, working with a range of organisations from large corporates to professional firms and SMEs

She now focuses on the small business and small charity sector, helping with marketing communications, fundraising, media and presentation skills training.