We hear a lot about public speaking nerves.
We hear and read about how public speaking is allegedly up there as one of our greatest fears; how the idea of addressing a large audience can bring the strongest of us to our knees. The mere thought of this one act can bring on sweating, hyperventilation, trembling and hiding in the lavatory.
Allegedly. We can be the most effective business people, advisors, entrepreneurs, strategists … but when called upon to speak to more than one or two people, we are reduced to quivering wrecks who would rather cut our lawns with nail scissors.
The public speaking comfort zone
Bit of a generalisation, I admit … there are many who love being up there in front of a crowd, unfazed by expectation, who have never needed to imagine anybody naked in order to gain the confidence to deliver their message. When speaking publicly, presenting, performing … these people are in their comfort zone. Getting up there and looking outwards at that sea of faces is like getting back into their favourite jogging bottoms and t-shirt. It’s comfortable, it’s where they are happiest. Good luck to them.
What we don’t hear about so much is how for some people, being in front of an audience is their key to a more confident life offstage. How the process of taking that step – be it public speaking, training, performing in a show – can reaffirm or even highlight for the first time all those elements of added value that they bring to the world.
Shy teenagers on stage
Young people, for instance, are great examples of this. The child who goes about their business quietly, who perhaps struggles to make friends, who lacks social confidence and has relatively low self-esteem, can bloom on stage. I’ve seen ‘shy’ teenagers dance with immense skill and self-assurance, sing like professionals, act with a grasp of the effect they’re having that belies their age. And these ‘shy’ teenagers have in turn grown out of their previous selves into young people that are as comfortable off-stage as they are on it – a testimony to the power of the Performing Arts in the development of soft skills.
And I’ve seen adults who perhaps have to carry out training as part of their job and dread it … and yet with a few sessions under their belt realise they can not only carry it off, but that they’re actually good at it. The knock-on effect of this is greater confidence with other aspects of their job, and increased self-esteem outside of work. A testimony to the power of public speaking in the development of soft skills …
Public speaking success stories
We should hear more people that are comfortable with public speaking. We should hear and read more about the success stories … accounts of how being in the spotlight has enhanced someone’s life instead of blighted it. Much is said currently about the lack of personal development in schools and a dearth of social understanding in our society. The answer is right in front of us – perhaps if that top executive whose throat goes dry and who loses all sense of reality when faced with an audience had been put on a stage as a child, we’d have less to complain about in this world and more to applaud. And fear of being up there in front of an audience would be rare indeed.