Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fear of Speaking

"They say people fear public speaking more than they fear death. So technically, if you kill a guy who's scheduled to speak, you're doing him a favor." – Codoso diBlini

Some years ago, someone took a survey to find out what people feared most. I don’t recall who took the survey; there’s always somebody surveying people about something. Presumably, some phobia-treatment lobby was interesting in developing their marketing targets. At any rate, the number one fear that people had was “speaking in front of a group.” This outranked other much more impressive (to me at least) fears like death, flying, spiders, snakes, and airline food.

This is ridiculous.

Even though I’ve heard people talk about not liking to get up in front of a group to give a speech, I find it hard to believe that anyone can consider this experience more frightening than the possibility of an untimely gruesome death. What’s the matter with you people?
I think it’s the stupid advice that’s been given by well-meaning persons about how to deal with making a speech. There are three axioms in particular that, rather than calming one, will make the experience even more daunting. Therefore, I would like to expose these “helpful” hints for the frauds that they are.

Dumb Piece of Advice #1
“To avoid being intimidated by the audience, don’t look at them. Look over their heads and focus on the back wall of the room instead.”

So there you are, staring at the back wall. You have no idea if anyone is listening to you or reacting to what you’re saying. Don’t worry. They have no idea what you’re saying because they keep looking back at the wall to see what it is that you’re staring at.

Dumb Piece of Advice #2
“Pick out a friendly-looking face in the crowd and maintain eye contact with this person while you’re speaking.”

This is diametrically opposed to the first piece of Dumb Advice and is equally bad. Now, the audience is wondering about the relationship between you and the one person in the room you’ve chosen to talk to. That person is wondering if you’re a stalker.

Dumb Piece of Advice #3
“To relax yourself, imagine that everyone in the room is naked.”

You’re about to make a speech. You’re nervous. And talking to a group of naked people is supposed to relax you? Unless you’re a male speaking to a group of Victoria’s Secret ™ models, you should be stuck between terror and revulsion. And, frankly, a room full of naked underwear models probably wouldn’t exactly relax the average male.[1]

Avoid these well-intentioned but idiotic pieces of advice, and your next speech will be a rousing success. Unless there are any spiders or snakes in the room.

[1] In the realm of great minds thinking alike, on October 11, a couple of days after I originally wrote this, the very funny Non Sequitur comic strip showed a man in his underwear about to give a speech. A fellow next to him says, “No…I’m pretty sure that the trick is supposed to be picturing the audience in their underwear…” See? Other people think it’s dumb advice, too.

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