ARE YOU AFRAID TO SPEAK IN PUBLIC?
For a lot of people, nothing strikes more abject fear into the core of their being than to have to speak in front of a crowd. For some people, it becomes a phobia, while for others, it’s nothing at all, or at least something one can overcome with a bit of coaching or tough love.
One thing most people never realize is that you, the speaker can just as easily make people in the audience nervous. In fact, some speakers can down right intimidate audience members if they want to!
On the other hand, when a good speaker owns the stage, they open up an entire world for their audience.
Back as a young and dumb little kid in elementary school, I used to love to write chemical formulas on the blackboard and tell the kids all about them, even though I had no idea what I was talking about. My 2nd or 3rd grade teacher at Arthur Hapgood Elementary in Lompoc, Calee’fornia, let me go ahead anyway. I did this a few times until one of the kids got up there and erased my formulas as I was writing them. I’m a bit slow, but when the teacher didn’t stop the other kid from erasing them, and all the kids laughed, it finally dawned on me that I needed to stop. I rarely spoke up in class after that. When I did, it was usually profound.
The older I became, at least in school, the more the peer pressure and my extreme social inadequacies made it almost impossible to even say my name in class, let alone speak up about anything. Yet, there was a few notable exceptions. One time in Freshman English at Palmdale High School, my teacher had a discussion about world peace. She asked the class what it would take to make peace in the world. When she came around to me, I wasn’t even trying to be smartass when I said, “They’d have to kill everyone except one person. Then again, that person would probably pick a fight with the animals.” That teacher never liked me after that.
Needless to say, I never tried out for the debate team.
On the other hand, I had expressing myself and performing in my blood and by middle school, I was in band. I stuck with that through high school, which spread to various rock bands and even a stage jazz band and the community orchestra. In the rock bands, I was usually the lead singer, so I was right out front, though I had either drums or a guitar to hide behind unless I had to give some witty narration between songs. That was a lot different from standing in front of the class and speaking…giving a book report, an opinion, answering a question, or anything that might not come across as “not cool.”
That stigma stays with a lot of wallflower people right into adulthood. Some grow out of it, while others never quite leave their fears behind.
LIFE AND CICUMSTANCES CHANGE
As one grows older, the thought of being cool in front of people becomes less important, at least for some people. Well, I take that back. The perspective changes. Sure, nobody wants to act the fool, unless you’re a comedian, but in that case, you don’t want to bomb. Two different sides of the same thing.
The questions are, how to do it and the fear of doing it. The wall that erects in front of a lot of people prevents them from ever speaking to a group of people. The fear of saying something dumb becomes insurmountable. It derives from the old not wanting to be uncool in class, except now it’s called shyness. Yeah, I’m making a leap, but that’s my take on it. I’ll bet I’m right at least a good bit of the time. Okay, if I’m only on the money part of the time, call the other roots of terminally shy people some other psychological cause from maybe a horrible family life or someone pre-disposed to being timid. That should cover the spectrum for most people.
In my case, I guess I was in the fear of not looking cool crowd. As an adult, I can be rather quiet at times, but that’s because I’m simply in another world. Call it shy if you want, but I always have a thousand thoughts going on and if I fail to recognize you or say hi, it’s not that I’m ignoring you, it’s that my mind is probably thinking of another story!
TALKING TO OTHERS
Talking to one person, or talking to a crowd is just a matter of numbers. When you’re standing in front of a group of people, you’re addressing one person. That’s right. You are addressing one person over and over again! That’s all it is. When you stand up at that podium, or within a crowd, every face that is giving you attention is one person. When you speak, you’re speaking to that one person. There just happens to be more of that one person around the room!
When there are multiple faces staring at you, or more likely, giving you their attention, take a closer look as you’re speaking. They’re most likely listening, but they’re not staring at you all the time. Their eyes are wandering, they might be scratching their head, twidding their thumbs, blinking, doing all the same things you do when you listen to someone else up there speaking. Think about it! Sure, you’re the focus, but it’s not like they have laser beams coming out of their eyes.
On the other hand, you, the focus of attention, can turn the tables and zero in on them! You could make an audience member squirm if you so desire. How would you feel if a speaker focused on you? How many of you have a fear of being asked a question? Aha!
Speaking in front of a crowd is an illogical fear. It’s no different than the fear of saying something dumb in front of one person. There’s just more of them. Do you feel the same fear of saying something dumb in front of one person?
IF YOU FEAR SAYING SOMETHING DUMB, PREPARE DUMMY!
It goes without saying that if you’re going to give a talk, you need to be prepared. If you’re terminally “shy,” you would never think of doing such a thing. However, if you think about it, those that do good presentations come prepared. They get up there with confidence. They take control of the crowd!
Okay, you’re just a writer. What about reading your stuff for your critique group? Come on now! I know plenty of people that are so “shy” they have to let someone else read for them because they’re too afraid to read in front of the group. Some, can’t because they were never any good at reading aloud from text. Some want to hear someone else read it so they can hear mistakes that way. Bla bla bla. I’ve heard every excuse in the book. Oh, I mustn’t forget the old “my voice isn’t forceful enough for everyone to hear.” Okay, that one I’ll have to give because there are some people that are not audible when they read. Why? It’s back to that terminally shy thing, in my opinion. They don’t have a loud enough voice because they’re so shy they don’t speak up. I bet when they’re pissed they do!
NO MORE EXCUSES
Let’s face it gang. If you’re a writer, you’re going to have to speak in front of someone eventually. Whether it be to talk about your book in a presentation, book signings, or radio interviews, somewhere, you’re going to have to speak in front of someone.
Suck it up!
You can be just as intimidating to the audience as they seem to you! On the other hand, there doesn’t have to be anything intimidating from either side. In fact, there shouldn’t be. The point is that speaking in front of a crowd is no different that talking amongst your friends. These new people are just new friends.
Happy writing… and speaking!