Public speaking is a performance, but it is not the same as acting. There are two main differences. The first is fairly obvious – as an actor, you are being someone else, but as a public speaker, ideally you are being yourself. Many people struggle with being themselves in front of an audience. How often do you hear people go into 'presentation mode'? They take on a professional persona that is an unconscious form of acting.
The second difference is about your relationship with the audience. An actor pretends that the audience is not there. But as a public speaker, you are there to engage directly with the audience – you acknowledge your listeners. To the audience, you are the whole point – and vice versa. Otherwise, you may as well just hand out notes!
These two things - being yourself and engaging with your audience - are two sides of the same coin. Putting yourself centre stage (in a genuine way where you are fully present) will help your audience connect with you.
An audience can detect when you are not fully present. I recently hosted my club's Toastmaster's meeting (online). As I introduced a speaker, I was distracted by a background noise. Every role holder receives feedback at a Toastmasters meeting, and my feedback was that I did not sound excited when I said that I was excited to hear the next speaker! I found that revealing. No one could hear the background noise, but they immediately detected that I was distracted. There was a dissonance between my words and my delivery.
Nervous speakers try hard to avoid putting themselves centre stage! They hide behind a PowerPoint or put on that presenting voice that does not sound natural and conversational.
What does it mean to have a 'service mindset'?
Seeking to impress your audience or worrying about what they think of you will distract you from focusing on their needs – and others will notice. Perhaps not directly, but it will come across as if something is a little 'off' with your presentation.
Adopting a service mindset means showing that you care about your audience more than you care about what they think of you. This applies regardless of whether you have a positive or difficult message to deliver.
Let's start with the positive. I have a lot of clients who come to me because they are worried about having to speak at their daughter's wedding or son's 21st birthday party. I usually point out that no one goes to a wedding or birthday party to judge the parent's speech! The audience wants a funny story or two, and they want to hear how proud the parent is and how much they love their kid.
Even if you have a tough message to deliver, you can be a powerful speaker by focusing on your 'why'.
During the early stages of the COVID19 pandemic, many political leaders and public health professionals acknowledged people's pain and sacrifices while delivering a challenging message. They earned our admiration not by 'looking good' but by showing empathy and being competent.
Adopting a service mindset should help you feel less nervous because you are shifting your attention away from the source of your nerves. And it will make you a better speaker. In fact, you will get the thing you crave -audience approval – by not trying to impress.
But what if I don't believe in my 'why'?
In my opinion, this is a problem. You can't have a service mindset if you don't believe your message is valuable. I quite often come across people whose fear stems from having to talk about things they don't believe in. This is highly stressful because it feels like a loss of integrity. They may be able to bluff their way through in the short term, but I don't believe it is sustainable in the long term.
I encourage these clients to rethink their job. I don't necessarily mean ditching their career, but perhaps they need to find an industry that aligns better with their values.
The great thing about having a service mindset is that it is also the secret to managing your nerves.
Hiding behind a PowerPoint or reading notes can help you get through (although it won't prepare you for the next time you present). But if you can see that you have made an audience connection, it will make you feel much more relaxed.
Have you heard the advice to imagine your audience naked? Most public speaking coaches would say that is the worst advice you can give someone! The intent seems to help you see your audience as less threatening. But disarming the 'enemy' is not a helpful way of thinking about your audience.
I like Chris Anderson, Head of TED's advice, much better. He says:
"You are a human. Your listeners are humans. Think of them as friends. And just reach out."
Article written by Catherine Syme
If you liked this article and would like to read more, please join our mailing list and we will send you a free eBook with our five most popular articles in 2022. You can unsubscribe at any time.
I get huge satisfaction from seeing the relief, pride, and even joy that people experience when they complete a course and reflect on the progress they have made. See what others say for some inspiring stories.