Public Speaking Tips for Attitude
In one way Public Speaking is all about seeming rather than being.
If you feel nervous but seem confident your audience will believe you are confident.
Sometimes when working with school students I would grab their attention by saying:
‘Today I really don’t care how you feel!…
(looks of horror)
…but I care very much how you seem!’
This is one area of Public Speaking where the popular maxim, ‘fake it until you make it’ applies.
- the only difference being that you might have to ‘fake it’ for ever!
And that is not a problem. Nerves give energy to a presentation and often a speaker who is lacking in any nervous energy can come across as a little flat and uninspiring.
There are certain attitudes that will support you and maybe some attitudes that should be avoided.
First of all, we need to establish in our minds what the aim of our presentation is likely to be.
Is our intention to come across as superior in knowledge and experience, that we have undoubted wisdom, and that our audience should unquestioningly listen and take notes?
Or is our intention to share our knowledge and experience as a way of allowing our audience to find their own particular way forward for themselves?
No one likes to be talked down to and no one likes to be lectured to.
The moment you stand up in front of a group of people you are in a position of potential arrogance.
After all, there you are, the centre of attention with a room full of people waiting to hear what you have to say. Unless you intend to become some form of guru, demagogue or charismatic leader, it is a good idea to let your audience know that you are here to share rather than lecture. Taking their lead from the New Testament many leaders will claim they are ‘not here to lead but to serve’. That is a wonderful sentiment, but sometimes it does feel like they are just paying lip service to something that sounds good, while in reality, it is still all about them!
I remember hearing a statement to the effect of:
‘Arrogance is the only sickness that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.’
Therefore a speaker that is too full of themselves can be a turn-off to their audience.
Let them know you are aiming to ‘share’ and not ‘tell’.
Take your eyes off yourself
This is not just an attitude, but an essential part of planning and preparing for a presentation.
The greatest failing of speakers is to focus too much on what they want to say and not focus enough on what the audience wants or what the audience needs to hear. If you can see the subject from the audience’s point of view and show them that you understand their side of a situation, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Feel, Felt, Found
‘I know how you feel. I felt the same way. This is what I found.’
This is a very simple and effective way of communicating. As a listener, until I am assured that you can understand my situation (ie -you know how I feel) I will not be open to your advice. The best way to assure your listener that you do indeed know how they feel is to let them know you have shared their situation (I have felt the same way) and now you have opened the communication channel to share your solution (and this is what I found).
You cannot achieve this connection if you lack humility and are not willing to take your eyes off yourself. My father was a man of great qualities, with the possible exception of humility. Whenever he offered advice, it seemed to come from on high, like an order, and often when he was right (which he genuinely was most of the time) I still had great resistance to his advice, because of the way it was delivered to me. He was rarely sharing, he was mostly telling.
This is a difficult one.
I remember a country and western song with the lyrics:
‘Oh Lord it's hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way’
This is why I often tell students that often the best speakers are the shy, more introverted types, for the very reason, that they are less likely to come across as vain or superior.
And I do appreciate that if by nature you tend to believe you are right and have all the answers, it is harder to come across – in fact, why should you pretend at all – as humble and sharing.
I was listening to a recording of a presentation from a stage speaker. There was a lot of good advice in his talk, but something left me a little unsettled. My wife was in the other room and I knew she could hear the recording, so just to clarify my concerns for myself I asked her:
‘What is the abiding impression that you take away from this talk?’
And she replied:
‘That he thinks he is wonderful!’
And who is to say he is not, but his self-satisfaction was getting in the way of his intended message
(unless of course, the intended message was indeed that he was wonderful!)
A quick confession here.
This article may come across as me taking my revenge on all the super-confident, self-satisfied speakers out there – and maybe I am. After all – ‘The meek shall also inherit…’
…if I know that you, as the speaker, are not perfect and you are willing to share that with me, I am less likely to feel bad about my own imperfections and more likely to address them, especially if you (who seem quite impressive to me –because after all you are standing up there on stage) are willing to show that you have also had the same challenges.
If you are unwilling to acknowledge your own frailty and instead are only going to tell me what I should do, I am going to feel more exposed and on my own and less likely to warm to you and your suggestions
And maybe that is ‘Feel Feld Found’ in action.
Let me have another attack at the ‘super-confident’
I heard a speaker who had been told or had realised he needed to come across as less arrogant.
Most of his presentation was still about how wonderful he was, but he revealed that he had also made a small error in his life - but he could not help himself! - because he shared his error as in fact a very clever error, in fact the sort of error that could only be made by someone who was essentially wonderful!
So here is the advice.
Be vulnerable, but be sincere.
If you cannot manage those two together, fear not, people are standing for political leadership throughout the world whose whole candidacy is built on not putting those two characteristics together.
‘Misery may like company’, but we are typically looking for positive guidance from our speaker. Negative whinging is never going to inspire an audience and so - taking a common quote from most people’s grandmothers:
‘If you cannot say anything positive, then don’t say anything at all.’
Being on stage has a way of magnifying sentiment and attitude, or maybe it is simply that there will always be someone in the audience waiting to pick up on something they regard as negative.
There was a recent headline in the news:
‘Manchester City manager takes a swipe at Chelsea Football Club’
It turns out he just commented that Chelsea were in a position to spend a lot of money.
You may not want to give the impression that a course of action is ‘easy’, but you do want to give the impression that the course of action is ‘clear’. So tying this together with #6 ‘Be Positive’, you may feel it is right to mention that there will be challenges, but make sure that the overall benefit far outweighs any potential difficulties. If the best course of action is not clear, the audience is more likely to be confused or ambivalent. It is the speaker's job to offer clarity:
‘This may seem hard, confusing, or difficult, but it simply comes down to this….’
Every salesperson will tell you:
‘Logic tells, emotion sells.’
There is a reason that Aristotle referred to ‘pathos’ in speaking, because until you stir their emotions you will not stir your audience into action.
Charlie Jones used to say that the job of the speaker is not to motivate the audience, it is to be motivated, and by showing how motivated they are, it encourages the audience in turn to motivate themselves.
Be a storyteller
The best presenters are storytellers because a good story will heighten the speaker’s credibility as a communicator and as an expert; its message will show a logical, proper course of action and in the process, crucially, a good story will stir the audience’s emotions (empathy, anger, outrage, hope)
Often this is an attitude that is adopted, particularly when the message within the speech could be seen as unfair! How many politicians have used the refrain of:
‘It is only fair…’
‘Any fair-minded member of the public…’
‘Is it fair that…?’
especially when they are going to cut social security, ban immigrants, or raise the charge for a service.
They know that we want to seem fair and if we can justify to ourselves that what we do is reasonable, it is easier to take that course of action.
The attitudes of a good speaker is someone who seems:
-Positive and Fair,
and who communicates
-Clearly and with Passion