Public Speaking: It's Not About You
By LeAnna Shanks
"No one in the room wants you to fail." This was one of the powerful statements I heard in Donna Shaffner’s Public Speaking Made Easy as part of the recent Lunch, Learn and Lead Series. The program is sponsored by The LEADS Center.
Donna’s main point was that the presentation is not about you; it’s about getting the message or information across to your audience and connecting with them. This surprised and delighted me, as I came to this seminar thinking it’d be just like the rest I’d seen. Often times, seminars, classes, or tip sheets for public speaking emphasize the typical points: dress nice, be prepared, and don’t read or look down too much. Not to say that those aren’t good tips, as she told us the most important part of public speaking is being prepared. Her time was not spent on teaching us the great tools you need to learn to be a great public speaker. Instead her approach was simple and effective, and that’s what made the seminar unique.
Photo by LeAnna Shanks©
Anxiety due to the audience judging the presenter is what people are most afraid of. She pointed out that anxiety over a presentation causes a 10 percent reduction in productivity. Donna brought up volunteers and worked through each situation of anxiety to help us learn to face our own fears about public speaking. A student, Danielle, was asked to relay some interesting piece of information about her research paper she had to present.
Photo by LeAnna Shanks©
She did, although hestitant and unprepared. Then Donna brought up more volunteers to stand around her, creating a very scary situation. She changed Danielle’s personal space by having each student take steps forward or backward, each time asking her to repeat the sentence. Her level of anxiety fluctuated until she became comfortable repeating the sentence with students standing very close to her. Donna said the goal of the exercise was to “work through her fear” and “retrain your body to deal with anxiety.” She highlighted that each student was curious to hear what she had to say and that not one of them was judging her or being critical. It wasn’t about a Power Point presentation, about facts, or information. Public speaking and presentations are a chance to help educate other people and to have a relationship back and forth with the audience.
Another person Shaffner brought up was Daemen art teacher Kathleen Parzych. She was afraid of showing her personal art work at shows and having to explain something so personal to people who might judge her. Donna worked with her fear by having Ms. Parzych explain one of her pieces to us. The most important part, Donna said, was to convey what Kathleen loved. A tip she gave was to pick five smiling people in the crowd instead of making eye contact with each person. Also that Kathleen cannot have a relationship with her audience by looking down or above them. She then repeated her explanation about a beautiful picture of fog on water more confidently.
The number one fear in America is public speaking and no one will be there to hold your hand while you present to your classmates, teachers, or professionals in your eventual workplace. However, if you take Donna Shaffner’s advice and think of your presentations as an opportunity to connect with your audience and to share a message, it won’t seem as terrifying.