Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Just Picture Them In Their Underwear

Public speaking is the number one fear of people in this country. We're more scared of this than death, snakes, being burglarized or even mugged. In fact, once a student in one of my speech classes actually used the excuse of getting mugged in order to delay his speech. There really was never a way of verifying whether or not he was actually mugged but I will tell you this, if he was sweating and stuttering half as much before being mugged as he was during his speech, no one would have bothered him.

I cannot identify with this fear. I've never really had a problem getting up in front of people to talk. Even when I have to wing it, it's no big deal. Sure, it's taken a while and a lot of practice in order for me to feel comfortable in front of a crowd of strangers but even before I was comfortable, I've never really been afraid. Today it's one of my favorite things to do. Maybe I'm missing something or maybe I'm crazy, I don't know.

I know this isn't normal. I know most people have to really work at getting up just the nerve it takes to stand up, much less use technique and aids to involve your audience. There is a lot of advice on how to do this. People will tell you to use handouts or ask questions or have a gimmick but the truth is, none of this will really make you better. It will get you through the act of speaking and, hopefully, give your audience something to look at but it won't make you better. I have seen just about every technique possible over the years: tossing food into the audience, calling people up on stage, doing a headstand in the middle of a speech and laying on the floor. Though these things get attention, they don't really get the job done if the person using the technique doesn't want to be there.

A lot of us have seen good speakers, I have no doubt. Even more though, we've seen bad ones. Two weeks ago, in fact, I sat through an hour presentation done by a man that could make millions as a hypnotist. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize this and is stuck making only thousands as an auditor. As he droned on and on about numbers and rules I thought "doesn't he know this is boring?" Probably not because it's probably not boring to him. But that doesn't make him good or his material interesting. That's what a lot of people miss when they're speaking in front of people, the audience has a different perspective. You can't just tell them information, you have to sell it to them. If the material is dry, say so. Acknowledge the obvious and the audience will respond.

This brings me to the reason for this entire post. Last night I had to give a presentation that I'd been preparing for over the last couple of weeks. I was presenting something that was both new and complicated for the audience. I had to do it in a way that didn't intimidate anyone and yet still armed them with the information they would need when they walked out of the room. In addition to that, I had to sell them on the idea in the first place. I was prepared. But so were they.

Five minutes into the presentation, the questions started. They were firing them off, left and right. I had all the answers, I think. I made jokes. I made points. I had to shut a few people down a few times. They weren't happy, but I think it turned out well. Seven new contracts were signed which I know means nothing to a reader in this context but trust me, it's BIG. Most of all, it reminded me that no matter how good you think you are or how prepared you might be, there is always a reason to try to be better. And maybe a little afraid.

6 comments:

GirlGoyle said...

And in the audience you always have Mr. or Mrs. Knowitall. Ugh!

justrun said...

Oh yes, there's always one.

Runner Girl FL said...

Good job!! It isn't easy to be so 'ON' for a presentation no matter now not nervous you are.

Bre said...

Don't you love that feeling of shutting them down? It's like winning and I love to win!

justacoolcat said...

Good work. 7 flies with one swat, err contracts, is working it like a champ.

Keri said...

You are so so lucky. I am one of those with total fear of getting up in front of people. And my favorite job ever was software testing/technical spec writing/training for a company in the cities. Worst days on the job? Training days, of course. Not bad when I had one-on-ones with just a couple of people and could go to their office, but when I had to get up in front of an entire department to demo the new software and walk them through it? Killer migraine days.

I wish I had that ease in front of a crowd because I want to go back into that line of work...