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So You Are the Keynote Speaker

by Dede W Casad

posted in Writing and Speaking

Syndicate This Article
Tonight's Program is in your hand. Three quarters down, in bold print, you read your name. The dark letters stand out in conspicuous relief to remind you of what you already know and have feared for the past several weeks. You are the keynote speaker for the evening.
The preliminary agenda printed on the elaborate embossed paper is like a fanfare before the grand entrance. The build-up is deliberately designed. There is a sumptuous, gourmet meal topped off with a foreign sounding dessert, followed by a dazzling musical program by a famous artist. A well-known, well-believed civic leader is acting as emcee. A leading clergyman has been invited to give the invocation. Special recognition and awards are handed out. Then comes the keynote speaker.
That's you.
This scene is typical of an annual fund-raising dinner for hundreds of nonprofit or not for profit organizations. It is the biggest night of the year when more than half of the organization's annual budget is raised. More often than not, it is the single most important fund-raising event of the organization.
When the executive director called you a few weeks back and asked you to be the speaker for the evening you felt flattered. Indeed it was an honor, and you were gracious and accepted with only a fleeting thought of the responsibility that goes with the privilege. However, as the weeks pass and the big day approaches your anxiety level increases. You ask yourself many questions. Why did I agree to do this? What am I going to say? Who is going to be there? Am I capable of pulling it off?
Nervous is natural. The task is formidable. The need is great, and as far as you are concerned you have a responsibility almost too big for you. And you need help.
The General Task
Professional fund-raising, by definition, is directed only to non-profit and not-for-organizations. Whether for athletes to attend the Olympics, or scholarship for students or bread for the homeless, all fund-raising effort are formulated around a need that is not being bet by a commercial enterprise. Granted, most public companies give generously to needy causes but they are not in the business of providing services free. Their business is always for profit.
A fund-raising speaker must know the difference between a non-profit organization and a not-for-profit organization. The non-profit organization expends its entire funds within their fiscal year. Churches are non-profit as well as most religious institutions. Most eleemosynary organizations, such as hospitals and universities or many of the arts and cultural organizations are not-for-profit organizations, and may carry forward their monies for use in the following year. Fund-raising then is for organizations and institutions who have no other source of support, accept through private donations, grants, tuition, and service fees. Non-profit organizations rarely charge a service fee. They depend solely on grants and private funds.
Today, there are over a million non-profit organizations in the United States, working constantly to fulfill the crying, humanitarian needs of our country that, either the government or the public sector does not meet, one must be sure the cause is just, worthy and authentic. If you are not sure, by all means research the cause's credibility. You must never be embarrassed publicly by representing a flawed or ill-managed program. If you have never heard of the organization that has invited you to speak, either decline immediately or delay your response until you have done the proper due diligence. Ask how long the organization has been in existence, how it receives its operational funds, who is in charge, and if it performs its function legally and accurately? Most of all, ask if it has a 501C3 status.
In our day, the work of most non-profit agencies is well documented, but you need to be wary of scams and charlatans who prey on sympathies and extract money from the generous, uninformed public before authorities have had time to examine their true motivation. There is no place in our society for the impostors, fakes and swindlers. Therefore, the cause must be genuine.
A good test of any organization is to observe how they get their message across to the public. There are many ways to make the public aware of a cause. Public relations is the professions that generally achieves this goal. A great deal of careful planning, by most of the larger, non-profit organizations, goes into assuring and maintaining the public's confidence and trust. Rare is the person who has not heard of the United Way or the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society or the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of American, to name a few.
Most organizations have become professional in their fund-raising techniques. Some others use bake sales, arts and crafts fairs, a car wash for the local high school, a pumpkin sale for the Rotary Club Foundation. The approaches to raising funds varies, using both tried and true, as well as creative methods.
Mission Statement
Your job, as the special fund-raising speaker, is to put forward the cause and to clarify it in the minds of your audience. Generally, the cause is stated in most organizations publications. It may appear as a mission statement. To write any mission statement takes hard work. It is not easy. Deliberate thought by many people goes into crafting a good mission statement. The reasons the organization exists is summarized into a one sentence explanation of its cause.
Once you have memorized your organization's or agency's mission statement, try writing your own. This is not a futile exercise for it does two things; it solidifies your own belief and understanding of its goals, and it helps you to convey that to others in the fewest, most cogent words.
Why is the mission statement then so important? Because it is the underpinning of all successful fund-raising efforts. It is also the underlying thesis of your speech. From it comes the hard facts of the practical needs of any organization and the soft, intangible goals around which you must build your case. What sticks in people's minds and continues with them long after your speech is the gnawing awareness that somehow, someway this organization may someday touch them personally. Who has not ever given to the American Heart Association without a twinge of fear that someday you may need their services? How many of you donate to the Muscular Dystrophy Association because a member of your family has been affected?
"But for the grace of God," we say, "There go I."
This is the task of the fund-raising speaker, to so set up the cause, reinforced by your own firm belief in the organization, that all who listen catch the urgency and open up their pocket books to help.
Public speaking is an art. Fund-raising speaking is a specified art. There are distinctive features that must be included in a fund-raising speech that are not necessarily appropriate for any other type speech.
There are higher and different expectations of fund-raising speech than from say an awards night speech or merely an after dinner speech. Entertainment is not priority. Profitable persuasion is. This expectation is inherent in the very reason for the speech.
To know and understand the job of a keynote speaker for a fund-raising event then is to know and understand the role of the speaker, the power of the speech itself, and the dynamics at work between the speaker and his audience.
Once these are known, the anxiety level settles into a normal range and you are ready to persuade individuals in your audience to do all they can to support this need.
"All the great speakers were bad speakers at first," said Ralph Waldo Emerson. If that is true, we all start out even. Let us them make the assumption, even though you may have made a presentation to your boss, toasted your great uncle at the family gathering or taught a Sunday School class at church, that you are making your first fund-raising speech.
So, let's talk about you and your speech.
Preparation is the key word. One must prepare him or herself for the big moment. A good public speaker's manual will provide the basics in public speaking, but it will be helpful for us to go over them in an abbreviated fashion.
First, you are the speaker because of certain reasons. You enjoy a reputation that lends itself to the occasion. You have been invited because many believe your name, your experience, your connection with the organization carries weight. Often people are invited to speak simply because of what they have done for the organization previously. Name recognition draws crowds. Few people will deem it a priority to come to an occasion to hear someone unknown to them. On the other hand, think of the times you went to an occasion because you wanted to hear someone special. The event will immediately take priority if there is a famous, guest speaker.
In many organizations I belong to when it comes time for the annual fund-raising event I am asked what noted person do I know who might be willing to come and speak. The person may have no direct connection with the organization but, no matter, their name will appeal to the masses and will likely draw a crowd. To some people you may be famous, so remember, some people are coming simply to hear you.
Since your reputation precedes you, maybe not as a speaker, but as a person an additional burden rest upon you. You must deliver, for the organization is expecting, not only a speech, but a speech that brings in money.
As heavy as this responsibility seems, happily enough, it can be done in the simplest way. Be yourself. You do not have to be the entertainer of the year. Neither do you need to be a Churchill or an Oliver Wendell Holmes or even the greatest preacher you know. You got where you are and are invited to speak because of who and what you are. That means people already like you, they respect your accomplishments, and they appreciate your efforts on their behalf. So before you go any further in your preparation, determine to be yourself. Think like you think, stand like you stand, speak as you speak now.
You do not have to take acting lessons or elocution instruction. You simply need to project your natural voice so that everyone can hear you clearly. Select your most comfortable gestures and use them sparingly. Then be sincere.
Preparing the speech
Next, prepare the speech. The first consideration for any speech is to have a goal in mind. So ask yourself, what is the purpose? Why should such a speech be necessary? In your case it is to raise money for the organization. In order to do that you have to construct your speech with a theme that directs you to that goal. So what is your theme?
The central theme is not the goal. The goal is long termed. The theme arises out of a current need within the organization. The theme is generally principle based, that is, it expresses some basic principle of human betterment, and often is directed around the group of people the non-profit organization serves, such as homeless children, or persons with incurable illnesses, or the mission project of the church.
People want to hear about people. They want to know more about what the organization truly needs to continue to carry out their work, why you think it is important, and why you are giving your time and your effort to their cause.
Once you have established a theme, let's say it is "all people are entitled to food, clothes and shelter." You give your speech the title, "WHEN WINTER COMES" and you are mainly interested in providing blankets for street people. This working title sets up its own structure. When winter comes it is cold. When winter comes it is lonely. When winter comes so do holidays. When winter comes there is more darkness. You can see a natural structure falling into place with a foreshadowing of the conclusion.
Notice also the repetition of the theme. A certain cadence of repetition is often highly effective. Abraham Lincoln, issuing his Gettysburg Address, illustrates this nicely. He might have said, "a government of, by, and for the people," or he could have put it more simply by saying "a people's government. But he didn't. He said, "of the people, by the people and for the people." He hammered away at the word 'people' and with each apparently unnecessary repetition he aroused deeper emotions and a memorable address, spawned by a single, provocative word.
The theme then must be well entrenched in your own mind so that you do not wander off message or follow rabbit trails that lead nowhere.
After you have set your theme and have outlined your points that comprise the structure of your speech you look at the conclusion.
Wrapping it Up
The closing moments of any speech are the most important. It is here you make your most poignant appeal. Consequently, the preparation of your final remarks must be thorough, must be deliberate and must be moving. It is during the last three-to-five minutes you tie the knot on the package. These words must be firmly set. Never, no never, think you can bring it off by sudden inspiration at the last minute. Never, no never, take the chance that the right words with the right impact will come flowing out of your mouth when the final bell rings. Prepare your last remarks as carefully and as courageously as you do your opening remarks. All your persuasive techniques come into play at this point.
Three things to remember in your closing remarks. Make them short. Recapitulate the points you made, then use an anecdote to illustrate the theme or the lesson you are driving home. This is where your reference material will be invaluable. I always refer to Bartlett's Quotations for a possible zinger quote. If that doesn't work I pull down some anthologies of anecdotal material from former speeches. There are many of these. I particularly like Jacob Braude's SPEAKER'S ENCLYCLOPREFIA OF STORIES, QUOTES AND ANECDOTES, and OR SPEAKER'S ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HUMOR. When you are at the library looking at these you will find many more. Spend a couple of hours enjoying the process of discovering just the right story for your speech. If these references fail turn back to your own experience. Recall the stories that have made an impression on you in the past. Look to literature, to politics, to business. Often just the right story is imbedded in one of your favorite books. I personally keep in my home library Spinrad's SPEAKER'S LIFETIME LIBRARY. This reference book is designed according to subject matter and has thousands of stories, about thousand different topics. Perhaps, the very one you need.
Remember the story or anecdote must sound like you. No off color story is ever appropriate. There are no exception to this. Study the story for its emotional impact. When you read it what did it do for you? Can you tell it in your own words and can you tell it with the proper emphasis? The story must become your own, as if you had lived it, and been a part of it in some way. External reference material is endless. Each of them is written to aid you in constructing a memorable speech. But there are internal resources as well. These are what you bring to the table from your own experience. In most cases, these are the most valuable.
The story must also have persuasive qualities. The power of any story lies in its ability to either change people's mind, move people emotionally, and most important, stir them to action.
Often a dry, boring speech is that because the speaker lacks the enthusiasm for the project. He uses a dull, monotonous voice while leaning on the podium. Consequently, the listeners are disappointed. They see a speaker simply doing a job he was asked to do. They hear a person who is careless about the outcome of his speech and conclude that the project is not worthy of their time or money, and they walk away sorry they came.
Never allow this to happen to you.
Bring to the podium your best. Dress as if it is important. I well remember inviting Elizabeth Kubler Ross to an Ethics seminar in Dallas in the late seventies. When I picked her up at the airport she had on a pair of well-worn jeans, a sloppy jacket and tennis shoes. I couldn't help but think, 'if she looks like this when she is addressing this professional group of medical doctors, attorneys, internationally known ethicists and prominent theologians she would likely fall on her face.'
I worried in vain. The next morning as she walked up to the speaker's stand she had on a beautiful light blue ultra-suede suit, and the audience listened to her gladly.
Wear your best. This says much more than words. It indicates you consider what you are doing and who you are representing as important.
Muster up maximum enthusiasm. This cannot be falsely conveyed. It must be sincere. If it is sincere it will show in your mannerism, be heard in your voice and, most importantly, be seen in your eyes. As you look at the audience they must see that you, not only believe in what you are saying, but have put your money, so to speak, where your mouth is.
Let the audience also feel your energy. Energy is indicated by your body language; that is the way you stand, the level and projection of our voice, as well as the correct speed of your delivery. A balanced amount of intensity is crucial to a successful fund-raising speech. When points are being made they must be made with the strength of your own convictions. The language you use, the tone of your voice, the gestures you make all add to the proper energy quotient necessary for good communication.
This doesn't mean flailing your arms around in erratic motions, nor slamming your fists down on the podium. Energy, to me, is power under full control. It is healthy, dignified aliveness.
Then, utilize the economy of words. Long, drawn out descriptions do not endear you to your audience. Neither does the use of elaborate, purple prose words. Waxing eloquent does not entail flowery expressions, but rather formulating the information in the clearest possible terms. The use of long, unusual and underused words only confuses the audience. Now is not the time to impress your listeners with your extensive vocabulary.
You have a goal. That goal is to raise money and to raise a good portion of that money in one night. You cannot afford to play with words. Clarity is essential. Your audience must understand you.
There are three way to speak in a formal setting: without notes, with note and, then, with a fully prepared manuscript. No book can tell you which method to use. That depends upon the individual speaker and his comfort level. Always remember it is much harder to be enthusiastic and energetic when you are paper bound. When your eyes constantly rest on a manuscript you are limiting your natural expressions, and often close down opportunities of expressing yourself in other means beyond the printed page.
If this is your first formal speech, part of the preparation is rehearsal. There is no shame in practicing before the mirror. In fact, it is always a good thing to do. You will see facial expressions you might need to forego like grimaces that are inappropriate. You can learn a lot about how you look and sound to others by going through the rehearsal experience before the fact of presentation.
In rehearsing you will discern the best and most direct approach for you. You will find out if you do better with notes, without notes or with a full manuscript. Go with what is best for you and you alone.
Sizing up your Audience
But the best presentation in the world will not be effective if you do not know your audience. Before a good fund-raising speech is formatted it is important for the speaker to know to whom he is speaking. Ask your host to go over with you who might be present. Ask how many came last year, what was their giving ability, how responsive were they a year ago? Will children be there? Do not assume you know the answers. All audiences are different.
Also, the audience is unique, generally invited from a specified and prescreened list, and therefore has peculiar characteristics that are important for the speaker to know.
Reading your audience is an imperative. If you expect to move them to action it is imperative you know them well enough to know what it takes to do so. This doesn't mean you need to know their individual names, but it does mean you must know enough to speak on their educational level and understand their degree of sophistication.
There is a great deal of difference in speaking to a group of Girl Scout parents and asking for funds for uniforms, than to a group of city officials at the Annual Fund-Raising Dinner for the United Way.
When you know your audience you then can choose from your bag of persuasive techniques and persuasive methods. Bob Rasberry taught me, through his book entitled, POWER TALK, the simple goals of persuasion and I have built a method around them.
He suggests five steps a speaker must make to take his audience to the desired goal. The first step is awareness. When the audience become aware, he says, their response is "I want to hear this." The second step is the problem. Once the audience hears the problem they generally respond with "I understand." The third step is the solution and again the audience response is, "Of all the possibilities, this is the best."
Visualization is the next step and the expected audience response is, "I see how the problem can be resolved." Then fifth, the action call. And the audience response should be, "How can I participate?"
These five steps can also act as an outline for the body of the speech. You can ask: What do I want them to be aware of? What is the problem? What is my solution? What do I predict will happen with the solution? Why do I need them?
Presenting the Cause
Your job is to present the cause in such a way that people are moved by the overpowering task of the organization that they want to share in its marvelous mission.
How do you do that?
First, you decide if the cause is long-term or immediate. It is one thing to ask for funds for research as the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Associates do; it is another to ask for funds for a Thanksgiving Dinner for the street people. Long-term goals deal with futuristic types of enterprises, such as buildings, scholarship, research. Short term or immediate goals deal with solving a problem today.
Decide what your cause will be as it related to the audience. Decide what your cause will be as it relates to the organizational needs. Decide what your cause will be in relationship to the amount of funds needed. Five million for a building is often easier to raise than five hundred for two children to go to camp. It depends on your audience.
Next, you decide if your cause in general or specific. A general cause could be the development of a child care program for your state; a specific cause, like the High School band going to New York to march in the New Year's Day Parade, calls for funds immediately.
Lastly, you must decide if your cause is a tangible one or an intangible one. James L. Tarr, former national chief executive of the Boy Scouts of America says, "One must distinguish between the tangibles and intangibles of an organization. The Boy Scouts may need camps, scouting equipment, buildings, these are the tangible needs-the brick and mortar of the organization, but the way to stress the intangibles you say, if you want to have a good man, look to the boy."
Remember, the cause must always be greater than the building.
Granted, many people like to give their money for buildings, but they do so because of what the building stands for. Bricks and mortar are symbols of the true reason for giving. People give to causes that help people. Therefore, before you write you first word of this important speech you must ask, what unacceptable human predicament will the money donated relieve or what terrible situation will it solve? If it is a building, that building has to have within it the solution to a human problem. The answer to that question becomes the cause you espouse. The more desperate the need, the more urgent the call for help.
Study the cause you are about to present. It is imperative that the characteristics of that cause be compatible with the characteristics of the audience. Matching the cause to the profile of the audience clears the way for optimum results. The more you know about each, the better chance you have of making your speech more direct, and the appeal more relevant, cogent and persuasive.
Closing the Deal
This brings up the human element.
At the close of all my speeches - get very personal. Not necessarily about person affairs, but person with the audience about how individuals can play a part. Touch some heartstring, or tap some cord in their inner being, making a connection with one or more of their emotions.
I recall once, when I was speaking to a group of people assembled to do volunteer work with senior citizens. We were seeking their time, their talent and some of their hard earned cash. I closed my speech with this persona account.
Some years ago, we established over seventeen senior citizens centers in our city. When we opened one of the centers in East Dallas, I was present on the first day. Many older men and women were coming into the church where we were setting up our operations. Everyone was in good spirits, shaking hands and greeting each other as they came in. Soon I noticed a little lady sitting over against the wall by herself. I walked over to her. As I did I noticed tears were trickling down her face. I asked her, "Is anything wrong?" She answered, "Oh no. This is just the first time in seven years that anyone has touched me." She had lived alone so long that no one had bothered to even shake her hand in over seven years.
This story awakens all kinds of emotions, sadness, joy, gratitude and compassion. It is also a story people are not likely to soon forget. There are power persuasive elements imbedded in it.
This story fulfills all my requirements of a persuasive story. It informs; it sets up a problem; it has in it the solution; and it call your audience to action.
A persuasive fund-raising speech emerges out of the proper understanding of the cause and the sensitivity to your audience. It's a uniting process, bringing together two dissimilar entities in a common crusade. Your job is enormous, your responsibility crucial, and a successful delivery is paramount to success.
That is your job as a fund-raising speaker.
Good luck!
About the Author: This is article is the result of speaking over 200 times in one year. As a member of many non-profit organizations I had the opportunity to learn a great deal about speaking, fund-raising and making an appeal for funds. My other books that might be helpful are Becoming by Being and Traffic of the Mind. Both books are self-help books. I have written over 20 books and have a Ph.D.

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