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Seven Speaking Tips That Beat “Pretend Your Audience Is Naked"

Seven Speaking Tips That Beat “Pretend Your Audience Is Naked."

The fear of public speaking!

Aggh. Everyone showed up clothed!

Once upon a time, I suffered from glossophobia.

This affliction touches billions.  It's the fear of public speaking, even to a tiny group.

I conquered it by discovering what makes people smile, nod, and listen carefully, because nothing calms you down faster than an interested audience.

This is what I've learned.

People love stories. Children plea for them at night, and adults crave them, too. Stories make us wonder; we want to know what happens next, which keeps us engaged, even enthralled. 

Tell stories.

People don't want to be impressed.  They want to be respected.  Rookie speakers feel tempted to impress an audience, assuming that this will make their ideas sound impressive, too. But if your words or actions suggest "I am better than you," people won't care what you say.

This principle also underlies another rule of effective speaking: Dress like your audience, but just a little bit better."

Don't try to impress them. Try to touch them.

People care if. If you truly want to help your listeners--by informing or motivating them, or improving their lives--they will care and listen. But they will care only if you do.

This recalls a favorite tip: "If you really care, notify your face."

speaking tips, fear of public speaking
Your eyes mean everything. We mistrust people who won't look us in the eyes--even if our eyes are among over 200 sets in a room. We regard peoples' eyes as windows to their souls, and it's from our eyes that people assess us.

speaking tips, fear of public speaking

If you look each person in the eye for a few seconds, you make each person feel important--a feeling that every person craves.  It also makes each audience member feel involved; it makes your presentation feel like a conversation rather than a recitation.

For this reason, minimize visual aids.  They break eye contact and make it appear that you are talking to the screen and not to your listeners.

Look them in the eyes.

Preparation matters.  But not for the reason you suspect. Preparation does more than make a presentation appear polished--and a too-polished presentation actually can feel inauthentic, even souless. If you've spent hours learning about the people to whom you are speaking, you will communicate the most compelling message you can deliver to a person: You are important to me.

If it's worth saying, it bears repeating. The old rule--"Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them"--reflects the limitations of our memories. Plus researchers have shown repeatedly that people are more apt to believe something they hear more than once--even if they hear it from the same person, and even if they question that person's credibility.

Repetition works.

People love music. An outstanding speech is musical; it ebbs and flows, hits a variety of notes, and makes beautiful use of pauses and silence. Just as in humor, speaking's key ingredient is timing.

Allow some gaps between your notes.

Obey The Rule of Seven. There's a reason why only seven principles appear above: Our brains and memories have limits. We can recall seven-digit phone numbers.  Throw in an area code, however, and we become helpless. So make no more than seven points. (Recent research suggests that making just three or four points works much better.


Harry Beckwith (website)(Twitter) speaks and lectures on marketing and consumer psychology all over the world.  His books include the worldwide bestseller, Sellng the Invisible, and the just-released Unthinking: The Surprising Forces Behind What We Buy.



(On repetition) Begg, I.M., Anas, A.,  and Farinaccci, S.  "Dissociation of processes of belief", Journal of Experimental Psychology: General Volume 121, Issue 4, December 1992, Pages 446-458

Miller, G. A. (1956), "The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information", Psychological Review 63 (2): 343-355

Cowan, N. (2001). "The magical number four in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity",  Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87-185.