Hi Dave – I would love any input on public speaking. I am a very timid person and it shows in presentations I have had. Could you give me any advice? – J.P.
Hey J.P. – When you say timid, I’ll go ahead and assume you’re talking about a lack of confidence on stage. You didn’t mention if it’s because of stage fright or just a case of being shy, but there are many ideas and techniques on how to overcome this and improve as a public speaker (or a comedian that might need a push to get onstage).
But right off the bat I’ll say one I’ve never subscribed to as a method to build confidence or overcome stage fright is picturing an audience in their underwear. I’m assuming once again, but when you’re on stage as a public speaker I would think you should be concentrating on what you’re saying – your message – and don’t need anything else to think about. Plus there are always going to be too many people in an audience that I wouldn’t want to see in their underwear.
Of course I’m sure a lot of speakers and comedians would have a different opinion if they were booking gigs every day for The Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Team. There are both girls AND guys teams – so pick whichever one works best for you.
So instead of suggesting the extra brain work that comes with underwear picturing, a great way to get over a lack of confidence is to do what the comics told me when I first got interested in this crazy business.
You may be timid, shy or nervous when you first walk on stage. But as someone who has been around behind the scenes a LOT, I’ve seen a LOT of people in that tongue-tying, dry-mouthed, hand-shaking condition suddenly break out and come alive once they experience their first laugh from an audience. It’s a life-changing event, spiritual awakening, shot of adrenaline and the same feeling as love at first sight – all rolled up into one big sucker punch to the gut.
That’s why comedians and humorous speakers say getting laughs from an audience is addictive.
I’ve watched many people from my workshops make their stage debut in front of large audiences at The Improv comedy clubs. Some were full of confidence, some were faking confidence – and some were just flat out nervous and scared. Members of this last group would fit into the category of timid– and the main reason was because they lacked experience on stage. They had never done it before in front of an audience and didn’t know for sure what to expect.
They needed that sucker punch to find out for themselves.
Nothing can truly change a lack of confidence until you have the overcoming experience for yourself. In this case, the experience of making an audience laugh. It’s powerful enough to make your first time onstage fun, memorable and… well, addictive.
Getting laughs can usually lure a timid person to try it again… and again… and again…
During my workshops I watch our shows from the back of the room. I can see if someone is going up on stage with a fearful look in their eyes. But as soon as they get that first laugh, it’s like a veil being lifted from their face.
The difference is like night and day – from black and white to color.
The same is true with speakers. Humor engages an audience and keeps them interested in what you’re saying. Even if you’re giving a political speech, a technical training seminar, a sermon, or anything that’s not a stand-up comedy act, a good speaker will mix up his delivery a bit. It can be subtle or BIG. They’ll go from soft to loud, or from high energy to almost standing completely still to make a point. Everyone’s different. Watch a (good) speaker on television or during a lecture and you’ll know what I mean.
For a journey to the other side of this, think about the most boring teacher you’ve ever had. Would the class have been more interesting and would you have stayed awake longer if they had just added even a speck of entertainment value? I need a nap just remembering some of the boring monotone instructors we had to sit through in lecture hall… yawn…
Basically, it’s really tough to hold an audience’s attention by using only one emotion all the way through a presentation or performance. That is why even a lot of eulogies include funny memories about the deceased. Humor is one of the delivery techniques that engages the audience and can seriously offer an interesting change of pace – whether it’s during a boring lecture or sad eulogy.
The late (and great) George Carlin told me during an interview for my book Comedy FAQs And Answers that he used language (we were actually having a conversation about dirty words) to keep his audience’s attention. And when he had their attention it meant he was in control and could take them verbally anywhere he wanted. When Carlin performed, his audiences were practically sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what he would (dare) say next.
Humor does this.
Make someone laugh and they’ll want to see if you can do it again. And while they’re waiting, they’ll listen to what you have to say next.
That means you are in control.
And that makes it a confidence builder– get it?
A great way to get over a lack of confidence (being timid or nervous) on stage is to use humor. Comedians go for as many laughs as possible. But as a humorous speaker (public speaker) go for a laugh. When you have their attention, follow it up by delivering your message. The combination of addictive laughter and an audience interested in what you’re saying should be the needed confidence boost to inspire you to do it again… and again… and again…
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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!