There is a lot to learn about public speaking. The fact that I have been writing this blog for 10 years is testament to that. And no matter how much you learn, no matter how good you become, you will never reach perfection because there is always room for improvement.
But there is one thing that you can do that will result in a giant leap forward in your public speaking. If you do this one thing, you will be more engaging and natural on stage. You will have a better connection with your audience and make a bigger impact. And the irony is that you do this one thing all the time.
Stop thinking about yourself
As you go about your day, you only spend a small amount of time thinking about yourself. For example, when you are looking in the mirror and shaving or putting on makeup. (Even then, I am often thinking about something else, which explains the razor nicks on my neck.)
Most of the time, we are focused on the things we are doing or the people with whom we interact during meetings or meals. We’re not thinking about ourselves, we’re thinking about them. And consequently, we are natural; we are ourselves.
Yet when we get on stage, the lens swings 180 degrees in the other direction and we become acutely self-aware. And that’s when things start to be uncomfortable. Let’s take a common, concrete example.
Where do I put my hands when I am speaking in public?
I get this question all the time. I understand the question but it always makes me chuckle inwardly.
I’m convinced that there are two times in life when people don’t know what to do with their hands. The first is when they arrive at a cocktail party.
The next time you go to a cocktail party, notice what people who are empty-handed do when they are speaking to another person, especially if they have just met that person. They fidget. They clasp and release their hands, or put them in their pockets or behind their backs, only to move them again a few seconds later. And then the waiter comes with a tray full of drinks and people reach for them like a drowning man reaches for a life buoy.
It’s the same when it comes to public speaking. As soon as people get up on stage, it’s almost as if they’ve discovered their hands for the first time. They don’t know where to put them. They’re like alien appendages that have just sprouted.
But you carry your hands around with you 24 hours a day. You don’t walk down the hall of your office flailing your hands about, wondering what to do with them. Because you are not thinking about them.
When you go on stage to deliver a speech or presentation, you should not be thinking about yourself, your hands, your hair, your clothes, what people are thinking of you. You need to stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about the audience. Because it’s not about you. It’s about the audience. I have made this point over and over and over again.
When you focus on your audience and connect with them, you will be so much more natural and everything will go a lot smoother.
Of course, as with most things, it takes practice. But with time and effort, you can shift the focus of your attention from yourself to your audience. When you reach this stage in your progress, look back and marvel at the giant leap forward that you have taken in your public speaking.
Thank you, Beth!
This is a great blog. I couldn’t agree with you more. I just gave a speech yesterday to an audience of 130 women in The Hague. As soon as I shifted my attention to them, they became engaged and we shared a few laughs. I think with practice thinking about the audience will come to speakers more naturally. Thanks for the post! Marie
Thank you for the comment, Marie, and congratulations on your speech!