Day 3: Don’t Picture The Audience Naked
Focus on service not on the spotlight.
This is a stupid one, and depending on your audience, also really gross. What if you speak at AARP conventions? Or for that matter, schools? I once spoke to around 500 high school juniors, and that evening someone asked me, “Did you picture the audience naked?”
No. I did not. If you’re in that particular line of work, I believe that’s what they call a career-ender.
Even if they are of an appropriate age, how are you going to talk to a roomful of naked people? So here’s a better one: picture everyone in the audience getting ready to come here and sit in these seats. Picture them in their home, fixing their hair, brushing their teeth, saying goodbye to their dog and then doing their best not to be late. They’re just people. They’re exactly like you. Not better. Not worse. The same.
This exercise helps you connect to the privilege of public speaking, and reminds you to focus on service not on the spotlight. The fact that you might be standing in a spotlight, elevated on a stage, or speaking into a microphone doesn’t mean you’re more important. That’s just so they can see and hear you. The more you can focus on serving your audience the better.
The only thing we can control is how we make them feel in the short amount of time they are listening to us.
And if being service-oriented doesn’t reduce your nerves, and picturing them in their ordinarily daily routines doesn’t help either, I’ll share something another presenter once told me she uses as a mental reminder not to be intimidated: everybody poops.
Bonus Story: The Art of Failing Forward
Bonus Story: The Art of Failing Forward
Growing up, I wanted to be a writer.
I spent my 20’s as an aspiring (and depressed) novelist. I was sure I wasting my life and my opportunities, but I couldn’t seem to get confident enough to submit my work to publishers. So I survived on office jobs, freelancing, and eventually became a journalist. (Which was great, but also paid me about half of a living.)
I was terrified of rejection, and as I neared 30 it was clear to me that it cutting me off from the life I wanted to have.
So I took a stand-up comedy class, and fell in love with getting on stage. Suddenly I was getting rejected in real time, and discovered rejection didn’t actually hurt me as much I thought it would. It wasn’t personal, it was just guiding me to craft my material more effectively.
If you tell a joke and the audience doesn’t laugh, they might not be telling you to throw the whole joke away. They might be telling you: a) you didn’t set it up clearly enough, so while they should have been listening they were distracted as they tried to figure out when this happened, or if their on the side of the person you’re talking about, or simply confused by some jargon you used.
They might also be telling you that your premise is too heavy to make funny as easily as you like. Or that their worried that you’re going to cry. You can talk about painful subjects, and frankly we need to, as long as you do it in a way where the audience knows you’re okay.
It turns out when you “fail” in comedy the audience isn’t rejecting you at all. They’re offering you all these guided pieces of feedback, if you’re willing to look for them. The more you fail, the more you learn, the tougher you get, and the smarter you get about what feedback you go looking for.
This process of putting myself out there and overcoming failure filled me with a confidence I’d never had. Probably too much, because a few months later I applied for a job doing financial presentations to high school students. Now I was attempting to teach important information in an interesting way to a very tough audience.
It turned out I was good at it, and what’s more important, this was the beginning of the path to follow to entrepreneurship, becoming a professional speaker, and facing my fear over and over and over and over and over. I’ve keynoted conferences and symposiums, I’ve had my face on posters plastered all over college campuses, I’ve been livestreamed to thousands of people tuning in.
Not because I’m naturally confident. I’m not. I’ve done these things because I love bringing a message to an audience that can change their lives.
And the best part is, I learned how to be a speaker live and in front of audiences. I didn’t spend hundreds of hours taking classes or practicing in Toastmasters. I didn’t have any formal training or a mentor. And I didn’t have any celebrity-cred to cash in on that would allow me to get away with “He was okay I guess.”
I figured out how to be good because I had to be good. And now I’m going to tell you how I did it.
This is my entire speaking success philosophy in three words: you will fail.
Make no mistake, when you commit to speaking in public, you are not risking the possibility that you will fail. You are guaranteeing that you will. It may not be next time you do this. It may not be for a long time. But eventually, you will fail.
(Editorial note: This can make me kind an awkward motivational speaker. Because I don’t believe in 3-step solutions or overnight successes. But let me continue.)
You will fail, and I can promise you that it will be the most magical thing that will happen to you. Because you will discover that failure fades the second you decide you’re going to get back up and try again. Because failure weighs way more as an anticipation than it does as a memory. Because when you fail, you gather tons of amazing data on how to succeed next try, that you could not have gathered any other way.
All you have to do is fail forward as long as it takes to start succeeding.