Message to all technical professionals seeking a useful skill that also enhances their value to their employer: Join your employer’s Speakers bureau, and if none exists, consider starting one!
That’s the advice of veteran engineer and educator Harry T. Roman.
“One of the best business decisions I made in my long career was to join my company’s Speakers Bureau,” he says. “It involved so much professional development, that now I cannot separate that experience from what I ultimately accomplished, and how I did it.”
A frequent author of IEEE-USA E-BOOKS, he has written an informative and insightful new volume, The Value of a Speakers Bureau. IEEE-USA is introducing it this month at https://ieeeusa.org/shop — free for members and $2.99 for non-members.
Roman, who spent 36 years in Research & Development with PSE&G, New Jersey’s largest electrical utility, credits many of his professional and personal successes to belonging to his company’s Speakers Bureau.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, he explains that a Speakers Bureau is a permanent cadre of employees who can be dispatched to speak on behalf of the company — a group of company ambassadors, if you will.
Based on his own experiences, Roman believes that a Speakers Bureau is “a wonderful place to cut one’s teeth for acquiring and practicing public speaking skills.” He emphasizes that an engineer’s ability to speak well before others is vital — when proposing new projects, presenting ideas to senior management, or presenting a paper at a technical conference.
“Nothing can take the place of acquiring great public speaking skills and nailing a presentation, as well as the tough Q&A session that follows,” he enthuses. “Talk about a confidence builder!”
He also points to the obvious advantage that company speakers enjoy — meeting many people who may become important in their organization’s activities; or even later, in a speaker’s personal career growth.
Two of the so-called “soft skills” — writing and organization — are additional benefits of participating in a Speakers Bureau, according to Roman.
“The more you speak, the more you will discipline yourself to think more clearly and organize your thoughts for presentation,” he says. “It’s not so different from organizing paragraphs in a formal report, or a paper to be presented. There’s a natural connection between writing and speaking.”
Roman notes that many corporations understand the advantages of having a Speakers Bureau — motivated employees who can represent the company effectively and build support for it. At the same time, these employee-speakers are also relieving the pressure on top management, who are frequently in demand for outside talks in a variety of forums.
The author writes that most companies with Speakers Bureaus delegate responsibility for coordinating its activities to a particular department. It fields incoming requests, links an appropriate speaker to the request, and provides all speakers with the latest, most relevant company information — to help ensure they will accurately and truthfully represent the organization. Many corporations with Speakers Bureaus go the extra mile to keep their employee-speakers sharp. Company coordinators conduct special sessions, where more experienced participants can coach newer members on their speaking skills, and meetings to present timely updates on company programs.
What types of organizations typically request a speaker? Roman says they can include civic and fraternal groups, such as Kiwanis and Rotary; business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce; middle and high schools; educator development groups; governmental and municipal organizations; even school boards and other corporations.
He points out that while most members of a company Speakers Bureau are knowledgeable about particular topics or issues — few, if any, are qualified (or able) to speak on any topic. More experienced or seasoned speakers handle speaking engagements where discussions may generate controversy, or involve discussions about sensitive technologies or corporate activities.
As an example of how participating in a Speakers Bureau can influence an engineer’s life and direction, the author cites his own story. Throughout his long career, Roman belonged to the PSE&G Speakers Bureau. At the same time, he worked on alternate energy technologies in R&D, where his duties included presenting proposals to top management to obtain funding.
Over time, the speaking skills he developed gave him the confidence to become an adjunct graduate professor; develop professional development sessions for science and math teachers; and eventually, become the head of his town’s 70-person water commission. After Roman retired early from PSE&G to satisfy a yearning to lecture more, he became a park ranger and docent at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, where he speaks to thousands of visitors every year. He also is involved with the Thomas Edison Innovation Foundation, which raises money for the park. In addition, he teaches and continues to write magazine articles and books.
“Never discount where corporate-derived skills like public speaking can lead,” he advises. “Explore the connections, and how they can enhance, grow and change your career!”
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.