Too many people say they don’t like public speaking because when they look at the audience, they don’t see a group of friendly faces. Instead they see a sea of critical eyes, down-turned mouths, arms crossed across chests, like a huge jury box full of judges saying, “Okay, show me what you’ve got!” Why is it that when they get up to speak, they feel like they’re on trial and are probably going to be found guilty of incompetence?
In spite of what you’ve heard, what you think you see in their faces, or what someone once told you years ago that scared you so much you’ve never forgotten it, the fact is that the audience is not there to judge you. They are there to learn from you. This is important, so I’ll say it again.
The audience is not there to judge you. They are there to learn from you.
Why is it so hard for many people to believe this?
Granted, there are critical people in this world. There are some folks who feel it’s their duty to point out the mistakes and foibles of their friends, family, bosses, elected officials and anyone else who dares to get up and express an opinion.
Fortunately, they’re few in number. It may not feel like it when you’re faced with a bunch of them in a confrontational situation like a debate, whether it’s over the kitchen table or in a lecture hall. The fact is that most people do not listen to you speak with the intent of pointing out everything you say or do that’s wrong. Most people are looking for what you say or do that’s right.
Let’s face it, one of the most pleasant ways to learn anything is in company with other people. It’s also the most efficient. Law schools have study groups as a matter of course. People working together in committee towards a common goal accomplish more because they can share the load. Within the group, individuals take charge of certain aspects of the project and report their findings. The whole group then learns from each individual’s presentation what they need to know to accomplish the project in much less time and with much greater efficiency. Instead of being overwhelmed with the need to reinvent the wheel every time, sharing information makes the job much easier, quicker and actually better, because two heads really are better than one. Bouncing ideas off of one another usually ends up in more creativity, better understanding, and greater success for everyone involved.
When we get up to speak, we are offering the audience information they need. What we have to say is important to them. They want to leave the room knowing something they didn’t know when they walked in.
Far from arriving with the intent to judge you or your presentation, the audience is on your side. They’re like a nest full of baby birds with their mouths open cheeping, “Feed me! Feed me!” When you feed the audience what it came to hear, you’re in a mutual partnership. You have something to give and they want to receive it.
It’s the parent bird’s job to feed the fledglings so they’ll grow. It’s your job as the speaker to feed the audience and it’s their job to learn what you have to offer so they can grow. It’s a partnership. Neither of you can exist without the other. The audience doesn’t walk into the room wanting to bite the hand that feeds them. They’re much more likely to say, “Thanks, I needed that!”