This Article is About
audience
soap box
public speech
self image
good advice
superstition
anxiety
good luck
The Naked Audience
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The Naked Audience

Early in life there was this yearning inside of me to stand up and speak. I would not say it was a call to public service or soap box exhibitions. It has been more of a need to communicate for the better good. I was in debate club during high school, took classes in college and even joined Toastmasters International for awhile.

Yet public speaking absolutely terrifies people. Paul L. Witt, PhD, Texas Christian University, indicated that just the idea of a public speech or presentation is the number one fear reported by people in the U.S. An amazing thing to think about when so many of us are good at simply speaking to other people.

Every day advice

Every day you hold conversations with people. You say good morning to your spouse and children. You talk to people you work with and debate the day's news. There are many other forms of speaking that naturally flows as the days and weeks go by. Yet when it comes to standing up in front of even a few people to give a speech, we seem to get tongue-tied and anxiety grips us.

Researchers have said that people with even the smallest amount of a negative self-image will tend to have this anxiety. The greater the negative self-image, the greater the anxiety to public speaking. The greater the positive self-image, the more at ease you are with public speaking. Great advice huh?

There is more to it of course and there will be many that offer their own advice. One popular bit of advice is to simply imagine that your audience is naked. I'm not really sure why that is good advice. When I tried it early in my career, it really distracted me more than anything. The visions that one can conjure up in one's mind are staggering. To say the least, that advice never helped me.

For stage performers, people will tell them to "break a leg" before going on stage. The term, while negative, is used because superstition dictates not to say "good luck." For me you might as well say "good failing" and set me at the lowest point. I guess that means by starting out at the lowest point, you can not do worse. But believe me, I have witnessed people doing worse than the lowest expectation.

Better advice

So what are the useful tips when it comes to public speaking? It is going to happen and you might as well be prepared. It might be to stand up at a Cub Scouts meeting to talk about the next scouting event. The boss may ask you to present your work group's project at a meeting. Some time, some where, you are going to stand up and have to talk in front of a group of people.

Five tips that are pretty universal to help you with your public speaking are;

  • Confidence - is probably the most important tip of all; have confidence in yourself. There are two ways of looking at confidence in terms of public speaking. The first meaning is your personal state of mind and this comes from knowing your knowledge of the subject. We would consider this real confidence and it is one you develop with effort and over time. The second meaning is termed the impression those listening to you develop based on how you act while speaking. Do you exude confidence such that the audience believes you have real confidence; called apparent confidence. You don't have to have real confidence in order to have this apparent confidence. The key here is to know that if give every speech in a confident manner, nearly 100% of those listening will believe you have real confidence.
  • Posture - your mother always told you to stand up straight and maintain good posture. Surprise, she was correct. When speaking, stand up straight, feet flat on the floor, chin parallel to the floor, and your shoulders back. Allow your hands to hang loosely by your sides, with your hands and fingers relaxed. Experts call this the default position. Don't shuffle your feet around, make fists, or look down. Don't place hands in your pockets, behind your back, or cross your arms. If you happen to do those things, recognize it and just return to the default position. Doing these things removes you as the distraction, which is what the audience will pay attention to if you keep bouncing around. You want them to pay attention to what you are saying, so slow down your movements and give them the opportunity to concentrate on the importance of what you are saying.
  • Smile - because this is fun dang it. Not a big old goofy smile, but just a pleasant and simple smile. Experts say that this causes a number of effects. The first is that it lifts the tone of your voice ever so slightly. This in turn makes you more pleasant for the audience to listen to. It also puts the audience at ease and more receptive to you. Think about listening to someone that frowns all of the time or has that goofy smile. The distraction can alter everyone's mood. Last, a smile will show that you enjoy the topic you are speaking about. If you are enjoying the subject, your audience is more likely to enjoy it as well.
  • Eye contact - throughout your talk, you should be looking at different people directly in the eye. Doing this will allow you to connect with entire audience. People notice when you are not looking at people directly. It makes you appear distant and it is a quick way to lose their attention. There are various methods on figuring out whom to look at. One is called the figure 8 method; choosing people near the front right, then move to in a figure eight pattern through out the audience. Another method is box method and one that I use; look to people on the edges of the audience but move slowly across the room to the other edge. By moving around allows you to make contact, or the appearance of contact, with everyone in the audience. It is that connection most people are looking for and that is what you will attain with eye contact.
  • Ignore mistakes - because it is going to happen. A word will come out wrong. An incorrect number or statistic will not be correct. You will say affidavid instead of affidavit. It happens all of the time, even to seasoned professionals, so just ignore the mistakes. Don't give a nervous laugh, don't pause, don't apologize and don't correct yourself. Just keep moving forward. When people are listening to you speak, the content of that speech are unknown to the audience. This gives the listener only fractions of a second to hear and process each word you are saying before the next arrives. If you simply move past the mistake without acknowledging it, you are minimizing the amount of time your audience will have to hear it, process it and then judge the mistake. Apologizing or self-correction distracts the audience. They are going to have plenty of time afterwards to analyze what you said. So just move on and concern yourself with it later if the audience brings it up afterwards.

Now what?

Start speaking; start standing up in front of people and begin to speak boldly about those things which are important to you. With time and repetition you will get even better at it. Don't worry about a little anxiety before a speech, all of us get it. Once you are up there, with the spot light shining brightly down, you are going to shine.

Remember, there is no one perfect or exact way of speaking in front of people. You will develop your own style and your audience will recognize that. They came to listen to you and want to hear what you have to say. So enjoy it and stay inspired.


Street Talk

andres  

great article! I really enjoyed reading. I think that the most important thing to keep in mind is practice a lot !. and get to know your topic to heart and don't write down everything you have to say ' just make a few notices of the main ideas and go from there.that way you can use some body expressions and make eye contact with your audience.

Reply
  about 6 years ago

What a comprehensive article Joseph. Well written and enjoyable as always! My favourite tip (especially for us women) is to avoid being a 'placater'. That means to keep your palms facing the floor... palms up gives the message of begging or pleading for the audience to accept what you're saying which is not attractive if you want to be credible! Palms down broaches no argument and is the position of authority. I loved your tips! Thanks.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

I have been speaking to audiences for years, confidence is for me the biggest item, If you don't know your subject you are going to fold. But by being passionate about your subject, having confidence in your knowledge on the subject is a good start.

Reply
  about 7 years ago
AnnMarie  

Great article, Joseph! Good advice..especially to ignore mistakes in your speech...politicians make these faux pas (plural?) all the time and I just laugh and shake my head when they do.

Reply
  about 7 years ago
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