One of the 44 executives I interviewed for the book, Laura Wernick, AIA of HMFH Architects in Boston, shared insight on the importance of public speaking and that her firm involves younger staff in presentations — even high-stakes presentations — early on. This post is an excerpt from my interview with Laura.
Jim Rogers: One of your professional strengths is public speaking to help develop business in the K-12 school market. Did that come from experience, or did you intentionally work on getting better with outside help?
Laura Wernick: Public speaking was one thing I always enjoyed doing. Even when I was nervous, I was still enjoying it. That carried me through in a lot of ways because I enjoyed going out and speaking, as well as making presentations. I also enjoyed doing interviews. As I did it more, I certainly became more comfortable with it. I learned by watching other people, including learning techniques from educators.
I have also gone through some professional training in terms of how to organize my presentations and present more effectively. That has been very helpful regarding refining techniques and understanding how I appear to others in a presentation format. I would certainly recommend getting a professional trainer, whether you’re an experienced presenter or just starting. That type of good coaching is huge.
Jim Rogers: Do you offer any formal training for your professionals?
Laura Wernick: We do have a professional coach who comes in every few years to provide some training on presentations. We’re also doing more mentoring, and this is more of a bottom-up request from our employees. We’re always taking a younger person with us whenever we go to any professional organization or community event. It allows them to watch us and others operate while learning what types of events we’re trying to participate in. We’re trying to get people out in the marketplace on a more regular basis.
We also work very closely with a writer who will help our young people put together ideas for articles. To whatever extent is needed, he will either support or critique their writing so that we have more people producing articles for magazines. We’re encouraging people to participate more in making presentations as well.
There are several public speaking opportunities across the calendar year, so we always try to have people from the firm speak at different presentation opportunities. We always have younger people not only come to interviews with us but play roles in those interviews. We’ve found that if you’re going to be part of an interview team, you have to have a role. Their role may be small at first, but we work with them to make sure they understand their script. There are also opportunities to be an observer, but if you’re on the team, then you’re presenting. People rise to the occasion.
From personal experience, I have found that if you’re speaking about something you care about, you may stumble a bit, but your passion comes through — and showing you care deeply is one of the most important things in giving a presentation. Oftentimes, that is even more important than the actual content. We find that our younger people do very well in interviews.