21 Nov How comfortable are you speaking in front of people?
I have just completed a one-week intensive course of teacher training with my mentor. We were about 25 participants and about half of us made it. “It” was standing in front of a group talking relaxed and natural on a topic we know for 15 minutes. Guess it sounds more like we were a bunch of backward nervous wrecks. I mean, how hard can it be?
For some reason, most people have a hard time to be themselves when talking to an audience. We clear our throats, stammer, don’t know what to do with our hands, we nod incessantly, get red in the face, breath rapidly, speak too quickly and indistinctly, and we utter meaningless sounds between words like “Uummm”. This is of course a handicap. The people who naturally and with humour to convey their message will win our trust more easily.
Last year was the first time I did this course and it really went to hell. As usual, I thought beforehand that I would make a success, but this course did not work the same way as in school. In school it was mostly about saying the right things, stand in front of the class and then chatter about Asia’s longest rivers. To say the correct facts was the main thing. If the speaker had good connection with the class, proved self distance on stage and was natural was nothing we received feedback on during my education.
During last year’s course I learned in a painful way that I can not perform or fake myself into being natural. My mentor has quite high demands on the teachers he approves. A teacher or speaker must constantly have the attention on the audience, since their reactions show how the presentation is going. Have they understood, is anybody absent, is it time for a break, is the energy in the room going up or down? Furthermore, the speaker should talk to the audience as if they are friends on the same level, not as a teacher who speaks to his pupils from above. Humour is an important ingredient and the truly charismatic speakers may also feel self-love and love for the audience while being on stage. On top of this we had to make a good introduction, give the audience an overview of the topic and at an early stage create interest since everyone is constantly asking themselves “What is in it for me?”.
One of the biggest problems for us on stage is that we self-reflect even more than usual. “How do I look, how is it going for me, what do they think about me, I don’t wanna be here, etc.”. Then we lose touch with the audience and everything just gets worse. When I made the course a year ago, I had no subject to talk about so I talked about my own spiritual journey. Bad idea, self-reflection also in the topic… While my mentor and the other students began to point out how my nervousness made me do strange things, I turned my attention more and more inward. In the end, it went so far that I found it hard to even have a normal conversation with a person in the audience. My Ego was totally revealed, thoughts spinning around in my head and I could not feel the audience and thus it was revealed that I did not care about them. Nothing I had learned in school helped. Not being polite, well-mannered or playing smart. The only thing that mattered was to be natural. Oh my God, I could not even be myself! Again and again I had to go up on stage. It fest like torment, even though I somewhere realized that it was useful.
This year’s course began with all participants one after one facing the audience and trying to speak as naturally as possible. Then we got rating 0-100% in how natural we were. Nobody got 100%, one got 90%, and most were between 20-70%. Myself I unconsciously made myself smaller to gain sympathy. Apparently I looked like a Disney character who had done something stupid, trying to play innocent by blinking feverishly with the eyes with long eyelashes. Babyface all over. Not so hot perhaps… But I was not alone in making a fool of myself.
Then we were divided into smaller groups and got to practice to repeatedly stand in front of the group, receiving feedback that others would never give us. “You are looking down, you nod, you snap with the fingers, you just look at the same person, you’re looking for sympathy, you protect yourself, you are arrogant,” and so on. In everyday life, it seems that we are either too self-absorbed to see what strange things others do, or we avoid telling each other to escape criticism. But criticism can of course be constructive. As the week went on we relaxed and became more natural on stage. In our group, we agreed on three parameters that seemed to help us: Dropping the idea of performance, not caring so much and constantly feeling into and talking to one person at a time in the audience. The nice thing was that as soon as I had experienced a few times being completely relaxed, I noticed how easy it was. As if a huge barrier had been released in me. Earlier in my life I have had many speeches at dinners that people told me were brilliant. But I realize now it was mostly the content of the speech I was praised for. While simultaneously creating a natural and personal contact with the audience was something new to me.
This year I made it! It feels like I’ve learned something for life. The thought of speaking in front of people feel much more attractive now. What a wonderfully relaxation and opportunity! I can really recommend the exercise to gather a group and give each other feedback on how our nervousness takes strange expression when talking to the group.
What is your experience of public speaking? Are you completely relaxed, or do you get nervous? Feel free to comment below!