You might have heard the advice given to a first time highly nervous speaker, that they should imagine their audience naked and this would remove their sense of being intimidated. This is terrible advice.
It came to my mind because I heard it again yesterday albeit in a fictional context. One of my favourite television programmes is “Call the midwife”. The reasons I like the show I’ll have to reserve for another time. On last night’s programme one of the midwives was tasked with giving a talk to new mothers on how to bathe their baby. She declared she was too nervous to do so. Another midwife passed on the old adage that she should imagine her audience naked and that would calm her nerves.
There are many reasons why this advice is not the most helpful. For one, it places our attention on the audience as objects not people. Secondly, imagining people in our audience as naked is more distracting than helpful! Thirdly, it takes our attention off the material, and plays havoc with our ability to focus.
Being nervous is not a sign and that you are not cut out for public speaking. I have covered this issue in other recordings, but it seems appropriate to revisit it. It is one of the most common questions I get asked on Quora where I post regularly about public speaking. Here are my top three tips:
- Clarity. You will handle your nerves on the day better if you have prepared well in advance. The key issue with preparation, is to be completely confident that your key point is relevant to your audience and clear to yourself. Do not leave the preparation phase until you can state your main point in one sentence. Then, when you are in the middle of your presentation, if nerves get the better of you, you can always simply state your main point once again. An important point will bear much repetition!
- Rehearsal. Take some time and find a place where you can rehearse key parts of your talk. This might involve sitting quietly closing your eyes and visualising the venue, your audience and yourself successfully delivering your presentation. It may also involve finding somewhere where you can practice parts of your presentation out loud. In particular, the first few sentences, the conclusion and your main point. It really helps if you verbalise this. Say it out loud. I go to the woods early in the morning to do this.
- Personal. Keep it personal. You are not giving a presentation, you are having a conversation. You are not talking to a crowd, you are talking to a person. Assume they want to hear what you have to say. In fact, you will find that this is almost always the case.
Thank you for listening to this recording. You can find more teaching tips here and on the on the YouTube teaching tips playlist.
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Thanks again for listening. Have a terrific Tuesday, and a wonderful week.