I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty good public speaker, so I signed up for Dr. Papakie’s Presentation Making class thinking I was in for an easy A. I think I’ve still got that A, but let me tell you—it has not been easy.
On the very first day of class, we brainstormed a list of all the things that speakers can do to ruin their credibility. You know what I mean. Speaking too quickly, mumbling, shaking, saying “um” and “like” too much. I don’t know about the rest of my classmates, but I was thereafter convinced that I’m actually a horrible public speaker. And soon, everyone would know it.
Dr. Papakie told us something really helpful, though, and I think the Strategic Visioning Project has convinced me that she’s right. “You’re going to be a much better public speaker,” she said, “if you stop worrying about whether the audience likes you and start thinking about whether they’re understanding you.”
Great advice. I can worry about how many times I’ve said “um” and wonder why nobody is smiling at me, or I can gauge the audience’s reaction, engage them, ask them questions, to make sure that they’re understanding the material I’m presenting. I’ve tried to put this into practice when I’ve led Strategic Visioning focus groups by watching the reactions of the group and making sure the listeners understand what I need to tell them. Sometimes I stop, take a deep breath, and ask something like, “Am I going too fast? Am I being clear about this?” Because even though it looks like it’s all about me, it’s not.
Public speaking can be a shared, collaborative process instead of a one-woman-show. I don’t have to be dazzling and engaging and hilarious. I just have to make sure I’m being clear and the audience is being heard. What a load off my shoulders.