First there was Mark Twain, who said, “There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”
Then there was Jerry Seinfeld, who said, “According to most studies, people”s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you”re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Now there is Joe Queenan, the resident satirist of the Wall Street Journal, whose self-deprecating description of his own fearsome experience was the subject of his column last weekend. In the column, Mr. Queenan also offered three pieces of advice for fellow sweaty-palmed wretches, one of which was worthwhile and the other two worthless.
The first bad advice came from a coach whose class Mr. Queenan took in advance of an upcoming speech. “Our mentor was a patrician old pro who told us to maximize our strengths (wit, charm, savoir-faire, experience).” How any coach could get his clients to implement those ephemeral qualities without making them feel more anxious escapes me.
Mr. Queenan also offered his own advice to a fellow writer who was terrified at having to speak at an event to promote her newly-published book. “I told her to make eye contact immediately with a sympathetic face and then work that person to death. Speak to that person as if she were an old friend. If she could find a second sympathetic face, terrific…Once you”ve found one or two people who seem to like you, glom on to them with the Vulcan mind meld.”
Sorry, Mr. Queenan, but that advice makes the one or two people feel ill-at-ease and the rest of audience feel left out. As a result, the entire audience, including those two sympathetic faces, begins to squirm restlessly, raising the already-terrified speaker’s anxiety level to hysteria.
The one piece of good advice grew out of Mr. Queenan’s own dais debacle. He had been hired to give a speech based on an article he’d written on public relations, to a convention of The American Recovery Association. Mr. Queenan described the group as “Repo Men,” whose mission in life has zero regard for public relations. Predictably, the event was a disaster. The problem, as Mr. Queenan put it, “No effort has been made to tailor the material to the audience being addressed, and the audience knows it.”
If you connect with every member of every audience at every level—your eyes, your voice, your body language, and your content—your audience will connect with you and lower your anxiety.
I am a corporate presentations coach and author. I founded SUASIVE, Inc. in 1988 to help clients make an impact, influence, get results, and persuade. Clients include
I am a corporate presentations coach and author. I founded SUASIVE, Inc. in 1988 to help clients make an impact, influence, get results, and persuade. Clients include Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, eBay, Twilio, Sonos, Lyft and hundreds of other startups and Fortune 500 companies. I am the author of the bestselling presentation trilogy:Presenting to Win,The Power Presenter,and In the Line of Fire: and How to Handle Tough Questions.
Learn more about SUASIVE atwww.suasive.com.