3 Axioms of Public Speaking the Dark Artists Won’t Tell You

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So much of what passes for communication training these days is focused on making you appear as something you’re not. With apologies to J.K. Rowling, we call this approach “the dark arts of communication.” Public speaking and presentation skills courses are among the biggest offenders.

An evil character practiced in the dark arts of public speakingMany people leave some of these courses feeling like they’ve just been taught how to act. Hit your mark. Make the correct gesture at the correct moment. Say your lines with great affect.

People feel uncomfortable during these public speaking courses. They will certainly feel uncomfortable afterwards when they are next asked to “perform.” They will fear that people will see them as being phony. They are probably right.

We’re aware of one program during which the instructor would count the number of “ums” or similar words the presenter uttered and then use the number to berate them. What a complete waste of time!

We recommend you forget all that nonsense. Don’t try to suppress your idiosyncrasies. Embrace them.  If you normally talk with your hands then go for it.  If you use a lot “ums” and “ahs” then let them fly. If you are a little goofy or way too serious then goof it up or be intense.

Why?

We’re aware of one program during which the instructor would count the number of “ums” or similar words the presenter uttered and then use the number to berate them. What a complete waste of time!

There are three key axioms of public speaking that the dark artists are not likely to tell you.

1) The first is that the audience wants you to succeed. They are not judging you – they’re rooting for you. It is very uncomfortable to watch someone do a terrible job at the front of the room. Among the most uncomfortable situations is watching someone struggle to speak and behave the way the so-called experts say they should. It’s like watching an adult trying to be cool with the kids by wearing their baseball cap backwards, riding a skateboard or letting their pants droop in the back!

2) Which leads to the second point: your audience can “smell a rat.” People are very good at sensing when someone is being a phoney. They can usually tell when someone is putting on an act. Face-to-face communication is the most difficult communication arena because all of the physical and verbal cues are there. If you are faking it, they’ll know.

3) The third is that the best way to magnify your own nervousness is to try to construct and maintain a completely different persona when giving a speech or presentation. Too much of your mental energy will go to keeping your act together, rather than authentically connecting with the audience. You will feel extra self-conscious. You’ll worry that people can see right through you. This is when the speaker is most likely to try to divert the audience’s attention away from him or herself and on to PowerPoint slides or other distractions. When you’re relaxed and being yourself, you don’t care if people are looking at you.

Do They Really Talk Like That?

An evil character practiced in the dark arts of public speakingAsk yourself the next time you see someone speaking who has clearly been trained in the dark arts, is that how they talk around the office or at home? In a previous post on this site we talked about how “playing the game” is only effective if everyone agrees that’s how the game is played. We also talked about how many people, particularly younger people, are rejecting the idea that inauthentic communication is to be expected and must be constructed with great care and effort.

People want authentic. They want genuine.

There are things you can learn to be a better public speaker and presenter, but they should never be about “performance coaching.” They should be about building on your strengths, presenting your ideas clearly, telling a story and, above all else, being yourself. (There is a defense against the dark arts! Find out more about RMA’s public speaking and presenting course available across Canada.)

There are things you can learn to be a better speaker and presenter, but they should never be about “performance coaching.” They should be about being building on your strengths, presenting your ideas clearly, telling a story and, above all else, being yourself.

It is very true that there are trainers and coaches that don’t teach the dark arts, but they can be hard to find. When you do find them, you can get better at using language and terminology the audience can understand. You can get good at building on commonly understood ideas and experiences. You can structure and deliver your talk in a way that captures the audience’s attention, then maintains and rewards it.

You are a Professional With Something to Say, Not a Performer

But all that stuff you hear about getting rid of “ums” and “ahs” (who really cares?), about how “most of your communication is body language” (it isn’t), and about how you should make weird, glaring eye contact with the audience (only do it for laughs), is, in our opinion, just plain wrong.

All communication is personal. You are moving an idea from your mind to someone else’s mind. That is very, very personal. Those moments of true connection and communication don’t come about by trying to deceive.

You are not a performer, you are professional with something important to say. If you can be yourself and then build on that to communicate clearly and authentically, then your presentation will be comfortable, effective and even fun – for both your audience and you.

 

Find out more about RMA’s public speaking and presenting course available across Canada. Our next session is in Winnipeg, Manitoba the morning of June 5th, 2018.

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