May 12, 2007

Speakers need obstacles




After hearing about the struggles and mishaps experienced by my fellow speakers, and through recalling my own "trial by fire" as a speaker, I have come to the conclusion that obstacles are required if you're going to become an effective speaker.

As much as we would like everything to go well when we're presenting, we should actually be hoping for surprises. The best way to improve as a speaker is to overcome those "what ifs" that give us the jitters. When we imagine the experienced and seasoned speaker we'd like to become, we're actually imagining someone who's overcome a lot of obstacles and has a relaxed demeanor that says "Bring it on - I can take it."

For example, if you're speaking at a luncheon and servers are clanking plates and glasses and your audience is too busy eating to notice you, that's an experience you learn from. Maybe next time you ask to speak before lunch is served, or you figure out how to get their attention while they're eating.

If you give a talk, and someone in the room very vocally and rudely disagrees with your main point, that's an experience you learn from. You figure out how to respond to disagreements and heckling, and the next time you're ready.

If your mic dies just as you're getting ready to begin your presentation to 500 people in a large auditorium, that's an experience you learn from. You and the A/V people take a break and fix the problem - hopefully.

It's hard to be a great speaker when nothing ever goes wrong! A speaker who's never faced a hostile audience or suffered through a technology failure has not developed the resiliency to get through difficult situations onstage and won't be prepared when something throws her off. She may carry more anxiety before presentations because she's still saying to herself, "What if?"

Be aware of the "what ifs" and plan for the worst-case scenario. It's not about being negative or creating more fear and drama before a presentation; it's about being realistic and understanding proper preparation.

And if you're fortunate enough to have something go wrong during your workshop, thank your lucky stars! That's one more "what if" to cross off your list of public speaking experiences - and it's one step closer to becoming that speaker who says, "Bring it on!"

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