April 21, 2008

Public speaking vs. death

Happy Monday! I got up and dressed early for a meeting, and now the meeting's been cancelled. What's ironic about this is that I try to avoid scheduling Monday morning meetings, for the obvious reason that it's Monday morning. I made an exception for this one, and now here I am, showered and dressed, with no place to go!

I think I'll get into my workout clothes, so I'll be ready to go when it's time.

Today, I've got an article for you by Melissa Lewis that I had fun reading.

I've written before about most of these mistaken beliefs about public speaking, as they are major pet peeves of mine, but please make a special note of the first one in the article. Apparently, Melissa is even more obsessed about getting to the bottom of this myth than I am. Here's what she told me in an e-mail:

"I have a standing offer to all my participants: Bring me a current, scientifically credible study showing that public speaking is the #1 fear and I'll give you $100. It's been 20 years and I'm still waiting!"

I thought I had gotten somewhere when I contacted the author of this article, who stated, "The findings have been verified by countless other surveys and studies in subsequent years." But he never responded, so I guess those countless other surveys and studies will remain a mystery.


Five Tired, Worn Out Speaking Clich├ęs and Why It’s Time to Throw Them Out© ~ by Melissa Lewis

1. "Public speaking is the #1 fear."

You can count on hearing this one any time you take a presentation skills class. The problem is, there’s nothing to substantiate it. The quoted source for this "fact" is The Book of Lists, which, even in current editions, shows a tiny blurb in the Sunday Times of London from October 7, 1973, as its source. In this article, no mention is made of who did this research, how it was conducted, who the subjects were, whether the subjects were a representative sample of the U.S. population—nothing! Not to mention the fact that this "research" is 30 years old. Haven’t people changed in 30 years? And don’t we face new fears that weren’t even in our consciousness in 1973? Of course. If this research were to be conducted with rigor today, we would likely have a different outcome. This tidy, shocking factoid is easily trotted out when we want to make a point, but it’s just not valid. Time to let it go.

2. "Picture the audience members naked."

OK. So you’re nervous about your presentation. Perhaps you’re feeling vulnerable and exposed. The solution? Imagine your audience in a humiliating position and, presto, everybody’s equally degraded! Does this set up powerful communications? I think not. Rather than mentally stripping (pardon the pun) audience members of dignity so you can feel better, concentrate instead on lifting your own self-image. Besides, you just don’t want to see some people naked.

3. "If you’re too nervous to look them in the eye, look just above their heads at the back wall."

Please. You can tell when someone is looking past you, right? At a party, it’s unmistakable when people shift their eyes past your shoulder to see if someone "more important" has entered the room. Besides, the back wall doesn’t get a puzzled look when it doesn’t understand, nor does it raise its hand when it has something to say. But your listeners do. You have to see them in order to address those needs. You can spend your whole life avoiding eyeballs. Although it might ease your nerves, it defeats the purpose of your talk: to connect. Better to spend time getting over the fear of eyeballs watching you than making audience members wonder, "What on earth is she looking at back there?"

4. "Make eye contact for 3 to 5 seconds per person."

Of course, it’s important to look at your listeners. How else can you know if they’re following or if they have questions? But giving each person 3 to 5 seconds of eye contact can make you seem mechanical. When I see someone following this rigid rule I can almost hear that person mentally saying "one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi." Lee Glickstein, founder of SPEAKING CIRCLES® and author of Be Heard Now, calls this kind of eye contact "eye service" because when you’re following a rule, you’re not really connecting; you’re just checking a box. ("Woman in the red jacket: check. Guy in the blue tie: check.") Meaningful connections can’t be reduced to a technique. Be flexible enough to really see those listeners and let go of the rules.

5. "Find one or two friendly faces in the audience and just speak to them."

It’s nice to have support, but when you give the speech to just one or two people, you risk alienating these very supporters you’re counting on. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this, you know what I mean. These friendly faces desperately wish you would look at someone else. Besides, if you’re facing non-supporters, wouldn’t you rather know what they’re up to so you can handle any of their discontent? Often, you can win over those grouchy faces by simply answering a question or addressing a basic concern. If you block the grouches out entirely so you feel more comfortable, they’ll be more unhappy because you ignored them. Find encouragement in the supportive faces, yes, but speak to the whole group.

*The SPEAKING CIRCLE® method is a revolutionary new approach for developing confidence and charisma in front of groups. For more information, visit www.speakingcircles.com.

Melissa Lewis, President of Upside Down Speaking, turns traditional thinking about public speaking upside down to give people more comfort, confidence, and charisma in front of groups. She travels nationally as a highly-rated conference speaker, trainer and coach. She is a former comic actress, a Past President of the National Speakers Association Kansas City Chapter, and a certified facilitator of SPEAKING CIRCLES®,a revolutionary new approach for building speaking skill and confidence. For more information, call (304) 788-1128 or visit www.upsidedownspeaking.com.

On The Everything Page you'll find everything you need to build visibility, credibility and influence through engaging presentations that move your participants into action: freebies, low-cost products and courses, and 1:1 coaching!

2 comments. Please add yours! :

Diana Schneidman said...

Lisa, I love your 5 cliches.

I read somewhere that the Seinfeld show is responsible for cliche #1. Of course, I don't remember my source (which was presenting more of an opinion than verifiable research). Nor does Seinfeld care about proving the claim, I'm sure.

In other words, I have nothing to add to your research.

Never mind, carry on.



Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your comment, Diana. Jerry Seinfeld referenced the "statistic" about people's #1 fear being speaking as a bit in his standup ("people would rather be in the casket than reading the eulogy"), but he's not the one who came up with it. He was just repeating the same flawed "research" from that 1973 survey that everyone else repeats.

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