Public speaking: Just be yourself?

May 19th, 2008 by Frank Damelio

Oh, all I have to do to excel at public speaking is just be myself?  Wonderful, now I know the secret.  Certain speaking coaches warn against trying to use gestures and practicing movements.  Their assertion is that the presenter could look fake, forced, robotic, plastic, and so on.  They extol the virtue of simply being yourself before the audience.  In theory they have a point.  Rehearsing every gesture could make the presenter look very odd indeed.  In reality, however, the overwhelming majority of presenters appear petrified (in the fossil sense of the word).  Most remain standing in one place and avoid any type of gestures.  Even somewhat forced movement is better than no movement.

Also, a small yet meaningful percentage of people are rude, asocial, short-tempered, obnoxious or simply flat.  I would not encourage a person like this to just be himself before an audience.

I think better advice is don’t try to imitate someone else’s presentational style when that person is very unlike you.  For example, if you are not a particularly funny person, trying to deliver your presentation like your favorite comedian would likely result in disaster.  You may admire the way your coworker delivers her presentation with resounding authority, but you may be of a softer, more diplomatic nature.

The best advice may be: just be a super version of yourself.  That is to say, on a great day, at your best moment with respect to mood, character, humor, confidence, affinity to the audience, what would you look like?  If you absolutely loved your topic, you felt a great connection with the audience, you were well prepared and you were comfortable, how would that look?

Not all variables are in our control, but we can certainly be well prepared by rehearsing. Perhaps not every move and gesture, but SOME movement and gestures, to jump start us into using our bodies, posture and hands to communicate more naturally.  Contrary to other experts’ warnings, the more we rehearse, the more comfortable we feel.  Knowing we have a solid structure enables us to take chances in the “here and now” and improvise because we know we have a safety net.

Some of my readers may know that I am also a professional close-up magician.  One of the secrets of magic is to know exactly what you are going to say, when you are going to say it and how you will deliver it.  Only by having the details rehearsed can you free up your brain to think and react to a spectator’s extemporaneous comment.  The safety net allows you to be the super version of yourself.

As odd as it sounds, to “just be yourself” takes a great deal of thought, practice and rehearsal.  The work, however will pay rich dividends.

Please leave a comment on your thoughts.  Thanks.

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One Response to “Public speaking: Just be yourself?”

  1. Target Intellect Blog » Public Speaking: Fact or Myth? Says:

    […] Myth. I’m not saying be unprofessional, but most speakers appear as if they are giving a eulogy, which is bad . . . unless they really are. Your audience wants to see some personality; so don’t be afraid to be yourself. […]

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