Earlier this week I was attending a civic meeting. I recognized a woman who had brought us in to speak at her group’s meeting. She asked how the public speaking consulting was going and without waiting for my answer volunteered, “Getting up in front of a group never bothered me. I am not afraid of talking to groups like most people are. I’ve always been good at presentations and speeches.” She rambled on longer and I simply nodded and listened with interest. What really interested me was the fact she is a terrible speaker. I have seen her present a couple of times when she was president of her organization. She rambles on with no apparent central idea or goal. And worse, she takes a long time doing it. I think we all could have walked out without her noticing it. I am being extreme here; however, her story makes a good point: Just because you are not afraid to speak in front of groups doesn’t mean you are an effective speaker.
“You have to give a speech.” Normally, people fill up with anxiety when they hear any form of these words. Their knuckles tighten, their stomach becomes one big knot, and their knees begin to wobble. But, what if you don't feel any of these things? Does that mean you are a natural, and therefore above speech anxiety? Base on the story above, clearly not.
I have found the opposite to be true. It's that this false sense of security that can really knock you for a loop. This is the kind of presentation that might turn out OK in spite of itself, but think of how fantastic it would be had the presenter paid attention to the details.
Mark Twain is noted for saying, "There are two types of speakers; 1) the nervous and 2) the liars." That profound statement says quite a bit. Twain was a respected orator and comedian; however, he still placed value on preparation with a clear message and goal, practice, and performance. He also knew that he was not above fear, because no one is.
The audience must be first and foremost in the speaker’s mind. Make no mistake; they are not there to see you. They are there to listen to their favorite radio station WII FM—what's in it for me? Don't set yourself up for failure by believing your lack of fear means that you're a shoe-in. My friend’s Dad used to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." A similar road may also be paved with overconfidence.