Give a speech that inspires

A speech at the start of the school year will help parents understand why the PTA exists and what it actually does. Hari Patience-Davies explains why identifying what matters to your audience is key to getting them to do what you want

It’s a question people have probably been asking for as long as there have been people – how can I get other people to do what I want them to do? One approach is to consider what you want people to do and what’s in it for them if they do it.

Say you want people to join your regular donor scheme – first show the ways the cause aligns with their interests. Parents and carers want their children to attend a successful school: they want their children to flourish, and it reflects well on their choice. So demonstrate the impact regular funds make on children’s learning and wellbeing right across the school and, in turn, how that will make the school a better place for their child.

If you need volunteers, show how being on the PTA can help them make friends and become part of the school community. Explain how children whose parents have close links with the school tend to do better academically.

Don’t think of it as being self-interested, but rather that there is so much noise and so many demands on everyone that if you want to cut through it and attract their attention, it needs to make an impact. And a good way for it to make an impact is if it means something to them.

If you have the chance to address your audience in person or over a video call, take it. Appeals from individuals will always be better received than an email, social media post or letter. We human beings like to connect with each other, so if you can stand up in front of people and deliver your message in a confident and engaging way, that’s a great start to getting people involved. Your audience needs to see that you believe in what you’re doing, and your enthusiasm can be catching.

If you’re giving this speech over Zoom or Skype, identify where your webcam is and put an arrow on a Post-it note beside it, or raid your children’s craft supplies for some stick-on googly eyes. It’s hard to focus on the tiny dot of a webcam, so having a sticker to look at instead is a great web-conferencing hack.

Memorise as much as you can of what you’re going to say. If that doesn’t work, try flashcards that you can hold in your hand. But don’t just stand there and read from the cards – you need to connect with your audience, and reading to them is not the way to do that.

Do practise your speech – you should never deliver it for the first time when you’re doing it for real. Steve Jobs used to practise his keynotes for hundreds of hours, though that’s a bit much – a few times in front of the bathroom mirror can work. If you really want to make sure you’re prepared, have one of your family members film you so you can see yourself as the audience sees you – it will help you notice things you simply don’t spot in the mirror.

Hari Patience-Davies is a storytelling coach and co-founder at Patience Davies Consulting patiencedavies.com