Public Speaking: It’s not all About Me

Public speaking is a very different animal than acting. Why? Because you are representing yourself and your product. I’ve often watched news reporters, talk show hosts and have listened to authors speak at my local community’s writer’s festival and have been in awe of how confident they are on stage or in front of the cameras. It makes public speaking look so easy. The truth is, it is not easy. It takes a hell of a lot of guts to get up in front of an audience and to speak for an allotted measure of time.

I’ve been in Toastmasters for a little over a year and have completed six speeches from the Competent Communications manual. Although, my experience at Toastmasters has been nothing short of wonderful, I still have yet to improve on my public speaking skills. When I say the word ‘improve’ I don’t mean that I’m working towards perfection. In this world there is no such thing as ‘perfection’. No matter how hard we work on a certain skill, we are still going to fall short of perfect. We may come close to obtaining that elusive perfection, but we will never be able to grasp it. Yet, there are still some people who are perfectionists. To them, a speech isn’t good enough if their delivery isn’t perfect. Superb eye contact, immaculate pausing and hand gestures, powerful vocal variety, excellent diction and pronunciation of words, and a lack of ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’, the two nonexistent words that bog down the flow of a speech. I mean, who wouldn’t want to deliver this kind of speech? I sure as heck do. I want to be able to able to get up front, or in front of video cameras and dazzle the audience with a flawless speech. Who am I kidding? As hard as I may try, I am never going to give that flawless speech.

I spent the first year, beating myself up for not delivering that speech the way I wanted to deliver it. Wait a minute. Is this really all about me? No! A friend of mine told me once that when you go up front to speak, it is not about you and how you want to deliver your speech. It is about your audience and what they want to hear from you. You are merely the giver of information. Of course, it is important that I show my audience a degree of professionalism. Professionalism gives me credibility.

I took his message to heart but soon enough my self-centered ambitions took over. I found myself doing the very thing I resent–working towards perfection. Come the middle of January of this new year, 2011, I had prepared to do my sixth speech. The objectives for that speech involved body movement, so I chose to do it on the techniques of theatre. I was very excited about this speech because of my experience in and passion for theatre. I had decided that I was going to go up front, have fun, be bold and vivacious. I was going to give it my all, but in the way that I wanted it to be. I memorized the speech, went up front and delivered it without notes for the very first time. But, when I completed the speech, I was bitterly disappointed. I fell short of my goals. Yet, everyone in the audience loved the speech. It was when I sat down that I remembered the words of my friend. I’m not up front for myself. I’m up front for my audience.

Since then, I have been working on getting myself out of that self-centered mindset and have created an “others centered” module to use as my guideline.


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