Speaking at Commission Meetings

March 4, 2014–

By George “Bud” Scholl, Commissioner

Jerry Seinfeld got a big laugh when he joked about a survey that found that the fear of public speaking ranks higher in most people’s minds than the fear of death. “In other words,” he deadpanned, “at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” The fact is most people are very uncomfortable getting up in front of a group and speaking. When I started getting involved in our City first as an activist and then on the City Commission this was one of my biggest challenges. However, I realized that I could not serve the issue that I was concerned about or the purpose that I was elected to fulfill without becoming an effective public speaker. So I practiced and in no time became comfortable speaking publicly in all sorts of settings.

This brings me to the topic of our residents attending and speaking at commission meetings. Most of us are simply too uncomfortable to come to a commission meeting and speak on a subject or issue that we care about. Consequently, many decisions are usually left up to the City Commission and staff with very little direct input from our citizens during a commission meeting. It makes a very big difference to the outcome of our decisions when we hear from our residents in our meetings. I can tell you that some of my most memorable meetings are when we have a highly controversial topic that residents are passionate about packing the commission chambers with several people coming to the podium to speak. These meetings reinforce to me that we live in a community where our citizens are engaged and let their elected officials know when they care about something that is important to them.  Calling your commissioner and Mayor is also effective, but attending and speaking at a commission meeting has a direct and immediate impact on how the commission views, interprets and ultimately votes on an issue.

So what can we do to become more comfortable in our public speaking? Before speaking, prepare concise notes that get to the heart of your concern. Many people come to the podium without notes and lose their train of thought. A few notes would have made the difference. Visualize a successful outcome before speaking. Practice going through your talking points. During your speech, deal with symptoms as they occur: Dry mouth? Take a little sip of water. Knees knocking? Shift your weight and flex your knees. Hands trembling? Put them together. Voice is quivering? Pause, take a deep breath or two, and smile. It is amazing what a smile will do.  No one is expecting you to be perfect, just to convey your concerns.

Getting nervous or uncomfortable does not have to make us embarrassed or frightened to speak in front of people about something we care about. Using some of the basic techniques described above will help you get your point across and in the end assist the City Commission and staff in making an informed decision. So next time you see a subject on the commission agenda that is important to you or your neighbors, come to the meeting and speak out!