November 22, 2021

Public Speaking Fears: Look for the Helpers

Strictly Speaking , Public Speaking Fear , Resources , Speaker's Bookshelf

"Fear keeps steady company with the performing arts," writes Buckley School founder Reid Buckley in his book "Strictly Speaking." We’re publishing a series of excerpts from that book on how to manage public speaking nerves, stage fright, and presentation panic.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

– Fred Rogers

Don't Permit Fear to Topple You:

Seek out a sympathetic person in the audience; ignore the hostile face

Yes, it can be dangerous to let oneself become lulled by well-being.

Nevertheless, once on stage, scrutinize the audience in search of the sympathetic countenance, the person who gazes happily at you or even beams at you his or her approval. Beam right back at him or her; by contagion, a good feeling will spread through the auditorium.

That moral support can be wonderful. It can be encouraging. As you smile back, you'll find that approval almost surely in other individuals. You'll sense a communion with your audience that prompts you to exert yourself all the more. A virile, exhilarating self-confidence will flood your being.

On the other hand, unless you happen to be, as I am, temperamentally pugnacious and a counterpuncher, ignore what you may perceive as a hostile face.

"In the vast majority of audiences, there are multitudes more nice people than jerks."

– Reid Buckley

Expressions in the dim reaches of lecture halls can be deceptive. Somebody may be yawning because...well, because we all yawn at inappropriate times, for one reason or another.

Somebody may be laughing to his companion, not out of boorish disrespect to you, the speaker, but because a thought irresistibly funny occurred to him, having nothing to do with you.

Or someone may have gone to sleep...well, because you put her to sleep. And that is your fault.

Reid Buckley's book "Strictly Speaking" includes this excerpt on managing stage fright.

Permit yourself to be pleased, gratified, and morally strengthened; don't permit yourself to be upset or morally undermined.

But if you should espy someone out there who unmistakably exhibits puzzlement--by wrinkling of the brow and a general worried expression around the eyes--come to a full stop.

Turn to that person. For his or her intimate benefit, repeat what you have just said. Ask the audience--never single out the puzzled person--whether the point is now clear. You will have explained yourself doubtlessly to many others who did not catch your drift the first time round, and your extra effort is sure to be appreciated.

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