Since 1980, I’ve taught corporate chiefs, expert witnesses, theatre professionals and normal mortals the joys of speaking in public. Yes, I said the joys!
Whereas most people are terrified of getting up to speak in public, my clients learn that their job is not to seek perfection . . . but, instead, to seek connection. Of course, they come to me wanting to look like the smartest person in the room (or the most talented, or the best expert). But that goal is a false one. Being the smartest in the room implies that everyone else is less smart. And no audience will appreciate being put down.
I believe that the speaker’s job is to make the audience feel as smart as possible; to inspire them to do their best, to be the brightest, to understand more, to feel more deeply.
Whatever the goal of the speech, the purpose is to connect with the audience rather than to wow them. And paradoxically, the more you connect, the more they’re wowed!
It is an often-quoted fact that people dread public speaking more than they do death. This led Seinfeld to quip, “If you were asked to give a eulogy at a funeral, you’d rather be the guy in the casket than the one at the podium!”
But public speaking can no longer be avoided. At one time, if you weren’t a skilled orator, you were never expected to get up and give a speech. These days, however, everyone in all walks of life – from leaders to leading ladies, from corporate heads to talking heads – will at some point be expected to explain, inspire, teach, or testify. No one is exempt. Not doctors, not ballet dancers, not YOU!
You might expect that, as a keynote coach, I deal with heavy-duty fear all the time, and that I have come up with an effective antidote for it. Wrong on both counts!
Yes, some people do arrive governed by fear; but I believe that fear is an inside job – meaning that it’s a personal interpretation rather than an external threat – so, the best way to deal with your fear is to change your focus.
Let me clarify. If you were walking down a dark alley and a large guy was coming at you with a gun, that’s an external fear that should worry you. It’s not something you made up, there’s real danger there, and you didn’t create it. But the fear of getting up in public and speaking is a fear that you create inside your own head. It’s an interpretation of an event – one that you can choose to interpret differently.
The distinction here is choice! Granted, in the first scenario with the mugger, you also have a choice of how to react. But you’re still reacting to an external threat. In the second case, where you’ve interpreted something as fearful, the entire problem is self-induced. The issue lives inside your own head!
So, as a coach, how do I tackle fear? I don’t. I bypass it. Since fear is an inside job, I distract my clients and help them focus on something else. I can help them find their passion: an aspect of their work or their message that really excites them, something that makes them smile, something that brings light to their eyes.
One thing I know for certain is that an audience gets bored not when the speaker is boring them, but when the speaker is boring himself! For an impassioned speaker will never be a bore. You might agree or disagree with the content. But you will be engaged.
The art of public speaking is the only antidote to the fear of it. And the “art” comes from connecting first to yourself and only then to your audience. Listed below are five concrete tips that can help you create a strong connection with your audience.
1. Public Speaking Must First Be A Private Affair.
You must examine what’s in your spirit, in your heart, in your soul. You must tell a story that reflects this authenticity, this connection to your most private thoughts and feelings. Your story should not serve merely to elevate you, but to elevate your audience as well.
2. Every Speaker Has A Story.
It may be personal (the most interesting); it may be factual (by necessity in some contexts); it may be inspiring (always the best kind). And the art of storytelling will make a speech more fun for the audience, and, more importantly, more fun for the speaker. Why is this so? Because a story allows us to get real. Facts and figures don’t stick, stories do.
3. Go Within.
I have observed that a speaker with a good story is connected to herself and, therefore, does a much better job of connecting to her audience. Both fear and art are an inside job. So go within. Spend time in peace and quiet. Do yoga, take a long walk in the woods, sit quietly in meditation, find your own path within yourself.
4. Fear Repels. Joy Attracts.
Look for the joy in your message. Look for the joy in your life. For you bring not only your speech to the podium, you bring your life.
5. Know Who You Are.
Your spiritual knowing will enable you to commit to what you want to say – in public and in private. It will empower you to empower others. And most of all, it will deliver to you the joy of finding your voice and voicing your vision.