Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Event Testimonial Speakers
The Testimonial Speaker is strategically placed in the Ask EventTM program at Benevon, sandwiched between the video and the final element in the program, the pitch. The testimonial underscores, in a subliminal way, all that has already been said in the program. This person attests to the fact that your work makes a huge difference in the lives of real people every day. These remarks are delivered in a straightforward and succinct manner and should touch people deeply.
Choosing Your Testimonial Speakers
The ideal Testimonial Speaker is a grateful recipient of your programs or services who is comfortable speaking publicly and will follow a well-rehearsed script. Their story needs to represent a typical story of someone you serve, rather than the occasional exception.
A rainforest preservation group actually had one of the indigenous tribesmen flown in to speak personally on the impact of the organization's work on his tribe. While you may not want to go to that extreme, do consider the very best person to tell the story. The successful alumni of the inner-city after-school program, the inspired opera patron, or even a staff member reading a letter from a former client can be extremely powerful. Even groups concerned about confidentiality will be surprised by the number of former clients who are ready and willing to tell their stories.
How the Testimonials Work
The total time allotted for testimonials is six minutes, but you do not have to use the entire allotted time. No individual talk should last longer than three minutes.
Each Testimonial Speaker's remarks should follow the same outline as the Essential StoryTM that is told at your Point of Entry®. This story has three stages or components:
Stage One is "Before." What was life like before I got involved with this organization? Paint the picture. Tell us the bad news.
Stage Two is the "Intervention." What brought me to the organization? What specific services and support were provided to me or my family? What did it feel like having people care about me?
Stage Three is "After." What are the results of the intervention? How has my life changed for the better? What is possible for me now? How am I now able to give back to the organization or to others?
Having More Than One Testimonial Speaker
You only need one Testimonial Speaker at your Ask Event. More than one speaker can become repetitive and lose audience attention. Most groups have only one Testimonial Speaker.
Having said that, some groups insist on having more than one Testimonial Speaker. Sometimes this is because they want representatives of more than one of their programs. A large family service agency might have a testimonial from a young mother who came through their family shelter, as well as a man who was once a child in their residential treatment program. While it is true that each testimonial tends to showcase a different aspect of your work, that is not the purpose of these talks. Your video will have included three stories from people who have gone through your programs, each highlighting a different aspect, so the testimonials do not need to do that job.
Two Testimonial Speakers can create a "safety net" in case one speaker is weak. But two speakers can also throw off your sixty-minute timeline if one runs too long.
A "group testimonial" can be very effective if you can keep it within the six minutes allotted for testimonials. For example, a group serving adults with disabilities had several of their participants on the stage, in their wheelchairs, being interviewed round-robin style. Group Testimonial Speakers should know in advance and be well-prepared for the two or three questions they will be asked. In this case, they talked about how the organization had trained or retrained them in specific job skills and then helped them to find competitive employment. They talked about how good it felt to be living happy, "normal" lives on their own.
Seeing a group of your constituents gathered on the stage can make a big impact. Though the audience does not get to hear the full story of any one person, the composite effect is powerful.
Having Children as Testimonial Speakers
We do not recommend having children as your Testimonial Speakers, unless they are being interviewed with succinct questions from an adult they are comfortable with.
Having a ten-year-old talk about how much he looked forward to asthma camp every year would never have flowed so smoothly if he had not been prompted along by these questions from his mom: "What's your favorite thing about asthma camp?" "What did you learn at asthma camp?" "Why are you excited to go back next year?"
Or the group of kids from the school choir, interviewed by one of the teachers who asked: "What do you love about the school?" "What's your favorite subject?" "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
The quality of the delivery of the Testimonial Speakers can make or break your program. I have seen a sixty-second testimonial from a teenage mother move a room of 600 people to tears, and I have also seen equally dedicated program recipients drone on or become overly emotional, only to lose the attention of the audience. Scripting and rehearsing your Testimonial Speakers is essential. Tell them they must follow the script and remind them that the program follows a tight timeline. Although there are no guarantees that the person will actually stick to the script, several practice runs of their testimonial, ideally in the same room where the Ask Event will take place, at the same microphone or podium, will put the speaker at ease and give you an opportunity to coach their speaking style and delivery.
Caring for Your Speakers
You will need to assign at least one person to look after your Testimonial Speakers at the event—they will undoubtedly be nervous when they arrive. This "caretaker" person should call them (or their parents) about a week before the event to confirm the schedule for the day, and then to reconfirm the day before. If the speaker is coming on their own, it often helps to offer to pick the person up and drive them to the event, to reassure them and make them feel more welcome—and to be sure they get there! If they do arrive alone, be sure to plan in advance where you will meet them and give them an emergency number for reaching you.
Invite your Testimonial Speakers to bring friends or family members if they would like. This will be a big day in their lives and they will want to share it. Arrange space for their guests to sit at a table with (or near) them. Be certain that your speakers get something to eat. Often in the nervous excitement, they will have neglected to do that. Bring an extra copy of their speech with you, just in case they have forgotten theirs.
It is fine if your speakers become emotional during their talk—within reason. If they stumble over a few words and get choked up, people will know how sincere they are. If they break down altogether and lose their place, give them a few seconds to compose themselves and move on. This is unlikely to happen if they have rehearsed their remarks several times, although standing in front of a large room of people who are all listening attentively can have a significant emotional impact on any speaker.
The person looking after the Testimonial Speaker needs to be positioned where the speaker can see them for cues, including the rehearsed cue for "time to stop." And finally, this nurturing person needs to congratulate the speaker after they have finished and escort them back to their seat.
In the case of a group of Testimonial Speakers, you will need a group of escorts and an empty table (or back room full of good food, in the case of kids) for them to retreat to after their part of the program is complete.
Finally, what if your sole Testimonial Speaker does not show up at all on the day of the Ask Event? This has happened before. Have a staff member who worked closely with that person be prepared to read the same script the Testimonial Speaker was going to deliver. While it won't have quite the same impact, it is surprising how much emotion will come through because it is being read by someone well-acquainted with the person.
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