Ask most people what they would hate to do most: handle a venomous snake, wade across a crocodile-infested river or make a speech? Most replies would be the public speaking option. (Or should that be the public speaking ordeal! )
Why it is so many people tremble at the thought of having to speak in public? What is it that causes most people to tremble at the thought of having to make a speech? Why the dry mouth, racing heart-rate and shaking hands, when all we have been asked to do is to stand up to “say a few words?”
What exactly makes it so stressful?
Is it the fear of making fools of ourselves? Are we are worried sick at the thought of saying the wrong thing? Or saying something at the wrong time? Or perhaps a combination of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time? There are probably dozens of different reasons but there is no doubt that for most people making a speech is probably close to the top of the most stressful things we could ever be called on to do.
But just pause and ask yourself this: if everyone (or nearly everyone) finds it stressful then surely those lucky people who are listening to you are sympathetic about what you have been asked to do? Surely they are very pleased that they are doing the listening and not the speaking? If so, and just think about this for a moment: you as the person making the speech should in fact be feeling much more relaxed, confident in the knowledge that everybody out there who is listening is on your side. They are supportive, sensitive to your position; they are glad it is you and not them up there.
Are you creating your own problem?
With the knowledge that your audience is compassionate and empathetic, what’s the problem? Let’s say you were to forget someone’s name or title or position; let’s imagine for a second or two you cannot remember something that you particularly wanted to stress, surely your considerate audience is going to forgive you?
If your mouth dries up and you struggle to swallow and you search around desperately for a glass of water, all of them out there are going to sympathise. So struggle or stumble over a word or forget a name or a date: it doesn’t matter. The main reaction you are going to get is everyone in the audience will be thinking: “thank heavens it’s not me up there.”
No one out there is judging your speaking ability
Unless you are being deliberately controversial, or you come across as pedantic or arrogant they are not saying to themselves: “He’s talking complete rubbish!” Nobody will be thinking “He thinks he is a brilliant speaker but, boy! he certainly isn’t.” This is what you might expect with political speeches or debating societies. This is the realm of “professional” speakers. We are talking here about the one-off speech.
We are looking at the audience when you are speaking as Best Man at a wedding or proposing a toast at an anniversary celebration or a bar mitzvah. We are looking at whatever the occasion might be when you have been asked to “say a few words.” It is important to always bear in mind that there is no one in your audience who is judging you on your ability as an orator. Nobody is marking your speech out of ten. What they want to do is to sit back and listen to what you are saying, happy and content with the knowledge that it is you doing the talking and not them.
So why the trembling knees and the shaking hands?
Why the breathlessness and the dry mouth?
If your audience is sympathetic, empathetic and relaxed you too can relax – you could even enjoy yourself! Before you even start planning what you are going to say in a speech remind yourself of this important point. Say to yourself: my audience is going to be interested in what I have to say, they are going to be happy to be sitting there listening and if I stumble or hesitate or forget something important they will be sympathetic and understanding. Because all of them are happy they are not having to make this speech!
Then when the time comes to get to your feet to say a few words, just remind yourself briefly of these basic points. It will do wonders for your confidence – and your speech!