How To: Bringing Comfort and Hope

How To: Bringing Comfort and Hope

How speaking to the sick can be good for you.

By Natalie Bourré

If you are looking to build a reputation as a credible public speaker within your community, why not volunteer to give presentations for one of your local organized patient associations?

In Canada, associations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Diabetes Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation look for public speakers to talk on their behalf at community venues. The month of October, for example, is recognized in Canada as breast cancer awareness month, and this is when the Canadian Cancer Society needs speakers to talk to women about how they can protect themselves from breast cancer, or tell women who have the disease how the Cancer Society can assist them throughout their treatments.

I joined the Canadian Cancer Society myself as a speaking volunteer and discovered that there were many benefits in doing so. Originally, my goal was to enhance my speaking skills and gain experience and visibility within my community as a competent public speaker. Achieving those things was terrific, but I have also been gratified by the fact that my speeches can help patients and their caregivers deal with cancer.

The first thing to tell each audience is about the services the association can provide. I can also help people at risk make informed decisions about protecting themselves from a disease. (An unexpected benefit is that I’ve changed some of my own lifestyle habits based on what I’m learning from the presentations.)

Speaking for patient associations has also provided me with excellent networking opportunities. Some contacts have taught me about how to stay healthy, while others have helped me find more speaking engagements.

Share Your Own Experiences
 If you have, or have had, the disease that a particular patient association represents, it could make you a valuable resource for that association. It can also present you with an opportunity to help others as you help yourself. Patients like you often want to tell their stories because they can provide hope or coping tips to others in a similar situation. Patients sitting in the audience, their caregivers or people who are interested in learning about a particular disease connect quickly with a speaker who can offer personal experience. For example, diabetes patients who have overcome an intense fear of needles may wish to share their tips on how they learned to manage this aspect of their disease with other patients who face similar fears. It’s a very personal decision to go public with stories about your health. But if you decide to do so, the patient association will appreciate hearing from you, because it’s challenging to find former patients who are willing and able to provide testimonies for current patients.

Before you sign up as a volunteer speaker, be aware that there are limitations on these kinds of speeches. As a representative of an organized patient association, you don’t have too much room to be creative with the content of the message; you must deliver it according to the organization’s instructions. Some associations may be more flexible than others. Some may provide you with a slide kit that you’re not allowed to modify because the association is following branding guidelines and also trying to maintain consistency between speakers.

Where you do have creative license is in your delivery style. You can determine when to include pauses in your presentation, when to carefully gaze into the eyes of your audience members, and so on. You may also be at liberty in how you open and close the presentation and how you transition from slide to slide. Each patient association has its own set of speaker guidelines.

Many of the speaking engagements take place during the day. Therefore, if you work full-time, you may have to coordinate brief absences with your employer. It might be better to request to speak during a time when you would be more easily available. If you decide to join a local patient association, take the time to meet with the volunteer coordinator or manager to clearly identify what is expected of you as its speaker representative. Learn where you have creative liberty and where you do not.

Find the Right Fit
Finding the patient association that is right for you might require research. You may wish to first explore organizations that represent a cause you already support with volunteer activities or donations. Although most of these are nonprofit groups and thus require financial support from the community, they are also in need of people willing to volunteer their time, especially those who can offer a specific skill such as public speaking. Your time and expertise are valuable assets to the association.

You’ll also need to see if there’s a local unit near your home or workplace. Such places typically cater to the nearby community, which will alleviate any travel concerns that you may have. Moreover, you can meet the people working there face-to-face, enabling you to better understand the association’s needs and expectations.

Toastmasters have a lot to offer their local patient associations, and they also have a lot to gain from them. I gave a speech at my Toastmasters club on the benefits of speaking for the Canadian Cancer Society, and five club members signed up as volunteers that evening.

Let’s be assertive in applying our Toastmasters speaking skills to benefit our communities and also ourselves. Volunteer to speak for a patient association and your abilities will improve, you will be recognized as a community leader, you will help people with their health, and you’ll get the chance to network with some wonderful people. What a way to improve your life professionally and personally!

 Natalie Bourré, CC,is a former member of the Richmond Hill Toastmasters club, located in Ontario, Canada.

A Sampling of Web Sites

Use this list to begin searching for the association that is right for you. Internet search engines can help you find more around the world.

Canadian Cancer Society:
Heart and Stroke Foundation:
Canadian Diabetes Association:
Canadian Lung Association:
Canadian National Institute for the Blind:
Arthritis Society of Canada:
Asthma Society of Canada:
Canadian Liver Foundation:
Canadian Women’s Health Network:
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health:

United States
American Cancer Society:
American Heart Association:
American Diabetes Association:
American Gastroenterological Association:
American Arthritis Society:
AIDS Community Research Initiative of America:

Around the Globe
Société Française du Cancer:
Diabetes UK:
Arthritis Care:
Osteoporosis Australia:
SANE Australia:
Irish Cancer Society:
Cancer Society of Finland:
Malaysian Association for the Blind:
Qatar Diabetes Association: