The NCSL Blog


By Katie Ziegler

Whether it is before a caucus, committee, community gathering or coffee-fueled planning meeting, most legislative staff will speak to a group at some point.

No matter how formal or informal the occasion, your presentation matters. You may be speaking to inform, persuade, analyze or facilitate, but whatever the goal, and no matter how well you know the subject matter, the event’s success or failure can hinge on how you deliver your remarks. 

How to ensure success? Practice, practice, practice, which, we know, is easier said than done during the busy season. But in addition to practicing your specific presentation before delivering it, there are a lot of tools and tricks for better public speaking to keep in mind.

NCSL invites leading experts in the communications field to share their best advice for legislative audiences. Here are a few tips:

Rachel Beohm, a communications trainer and coach in Portland, Ore., notes, “If there is a mismatch between what you say with your words and what you say with your body, and your voice tone, and your facial expressions, people believe the nonverbal every single time.” Her webinar for NCSL, "Make Your Mark: Practical Tools to Expand Your Personal Presence," explains the four components of nonverbal presence and how you can be more aware of and improve your own presence.

Of course, you do need to choose what you say wisely. In her NCSL webinar, "Speaking With Authority," coach Catherine Johns helps viewers be concise, clear and credible with their word choices.

Be mindful of the danger inherent in delivering a speech that was originally written as a document to be read, Johns adds. “Spoken English and written English are actually two different languages," she says. "When we speak in written English, we diminish our impact because it sounds scripted or over-prepared. We diminish our influence.”

So, when you take that advice and start from scratch as you develop a presentation, how do you begin? Marianna Swallow reminds viewers of her webinar, "Keys to an Effective, Engaging Presentation," to “know your purpose. Everything in your talk needs to support it.” She explains how to develop a purpose statement, how to tailor your content for specific groups of listeners, and how to plan for the time (short or long) you’re likely to have.

Spend some time with these pros and breathe a little easier (literally—remember to breathe!) at your next public speaking opportunity. Want more? Join NCSL for a new webinar with Marianna Swallow and Randy Ford on Nov. 20 about story principles, focused messaging and communication styles.

Katie Ziegler is a program director in NCSL’s State Services division

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.