The Tale of Public Speaking (and its Conquerors)
By Michael Whaby
Public Speaking—man nor woman, but it—is one of humans’ most prominent enemies. For centuries, it has silenced the sounds of what would have been important questions, novel ideas, words of influence or optimism, and even the sounds of laughter. It has stood its enormous weight on the chests of those who fear it. Vulnerable prey of it are often those put in a state of performance-driven anxiety. These prey, innocent as they are, may just be students preparing to give a presentation to their class, or maybe entrepreneurs eager to pitch an idea to investors. Fear of failure consumes them.
But how did Public Speaking get this strength, this power over humans? It knows that humans don’t enjoy looking like idiots, or failing in general, let alone in front of a crowd. So, what does Public Speaking do? It entices humans to envision themselves delivering exceptionally mediocre performances. If a human had had a past performance that did not go so well, especially in the public speaking realm, Public Speaking would cruelly bring up these memories to the human at the most inconvenient of times. This way, humans will amplify their insecurities and self-doubts, granting more power still to Public Speaking.
Public Speaking, itself, has few vulnerabilities. The fear of Public Speaking, contrary to popular folklore, has rarely been dampened by picturing a crowd in their underwear. However, as with every super villain, Public Speaking has its weaknesses.
There are those humans that Public Speaking has never bothered with: The Shameless. The Shameless simply do not fear Public Speaking. A way in which Public Speaking instills fear into its victims is through taunting embarrassment. Most people not just fear failure itself, but failure in a public setting can also be embarrassing. The Shameless are not affected by embarrassment how other humans are; they also tend to be very good receivers of criticism as they try to take feelings out of the equation. This control of emotions, or absence thereof, is critical to The Shameless’ prevail to Public Speaking.
A common tactic of The Shameless to overcome Public Speaking is that they expose their flaws to their audiences openly. This dampens the high expectations held by the audiences, ultimately relieving audience-induced pressure. This “lightening of the mood” is a way to connect with the audience. Not only does it lessen some tension, but this may also help gain some trust from the audience by showing them such openness.
Being shameless alone would not ensure a “good” performance, though. The Shameless might always get through Public Speaking, but maybe sometimes it might have been better if they were silenced. Speaking shamelessly doesn’t ensure that the right words are being said. Which introduces another conqueror of Public Speaking: The Well-Prepared. The Well-Prepared come into Public Speaking situations, well, well-prepared. For example, if a Well-Prepared were to have to give a presentation on a specific topic in two weeks, they would make strides to ensure that they practice to the point of comfort. Unlike the last folklore idea, practice really does make perfect.
The Well-Prepared make up probably the largest percentage of humans that successfully overcome the fear of Public Speaking. Before they face Public Speaking, they go through many rounds of practicing their work, like a presentation, to themselves, then a small group of close friends/colleagues/co-workers, then maybe even another round with more people. But, most importantly, by the time they face Public Speaking, they are at least ready to fight.
The Shameless and The Well-Prepared are still prone to fall to Public Speaking, but the last group yet to be mentioned, the rarest breed, are The Wingers. The Wingers indeed carry shame in the face of failure, and they are not grouped with The Well-Prepared because they do not feel that they need the extra practice. They feel comfortable enough to just step up in front of a crowd and carry on. The Wingers are often the most experienced battlers of Public Speaking. So, in a way they are well-prepared, but only through associative comfort to a specific topic and to the act of public speaking.
But while becoming a Winger seems tantalizing, the groups best to join would be the former two: The Shameless and The Well-Prepared. With these groups, you will become better and learn the most about yourself and how to improve your performances. Then, maybe, with enough practice and an adoption of a shameless mindset, you may even develop into an efficient Winger—do keep in mind that even Wingers have to become a Well-Prepared for topics outside of their field of expertise.
The moral of the story is that Public Speaking is a fearsome opponent, but it has its weaknesses. Consider qualities of the three characters above—The Shameless, The Well-Prepared, and The Wingers—and find ways develop more of these characteristics. Push yourself in the direction of being more comfortable with your discomfort of Public Speaking, and know that you are one of many fighting the same battle.
I urge you to check out Tim Urban's advice on Public Speaking at his blog Wait But Why? This is an incredible resource to learn about public speaking from a TED Talk(er's) perspective. Here is a link to learn more:
Doing a TED Talk: The Full Story