Friday, February 26, 2010

Wrong Focus

When I speak in front of a group, I always focus on my diction and delivery. I get tangled in knots trying to get these aspects right. I focus on the form rather than on the substance. I get stuck up on the appearances rather than the substance of the speaker. The other day, an old friend of mine delivered a 2 hour presentation. It was probably longer than anything I have ever done. Perhaps from a form or appearance perspective it was something that could be improved a lot. But the audience liked it because the effort was sincere and, therefore, effective.

This is where one gets into a trap where one focuses on the outward appearances than in the inner values. For example, in the past before joining Toastmaster, I had focused on the message and did all I can to stay on the message and deliver it without drifting. For me, straying from the message always results in mental confusion especially when standing in front of an audience. So staying focused on the message results in a wooden performance without warmth or spontaneity. It lacks the sincerity that one would normally exhibit when one is just being himself when delivering the presentation. Of course, sincerity never really trumps appearance as form does matter.

The quality to develop is confidence. When one is confident in public speaking, then sincerity, warmth, appearance and spontaneity will come out naturally. This is the goal of public speaking courses like Toastmasters. The danger is that one would have a wrong focus on appearances or forms rather than substance. It’s a way to maintain some sort of confidence by sticking to formula instead of improvising and responding to the audience. Without being spontaneous or receptive or sensitive to the audience one will not be able to connect to his listeners. This is the quality that one is missing if one focuses on the wrong quality.

So how does one maintain confidence? The first step is controlling one’s thoughts. Agitated thoughts bring fear and anxiety and result in lost of confidence. One has agitated thoughts because he fears his audience, that his speech will fail and his listeners will laugh at him. Perhaps believing in the goodness of other people, in their better natures, will help one overcome his fear. His faith on people will allow him to make mistakes as the audience will still accept him as long as he prepares his presentation with good effort. In other words, showing one’s human side will relax the audience and bring confidence to the speaker. He does not need to be an ‘on-the-message’ robot but a warm individual who is doing a presentation with honest effort.

So how does one get confidence? The best answer is thru practice. By committed practice, one gets the expertise to develop the needed confidence. But committed practice should focus on the substance not on the form. The form and appearances will come about as well but the focus should be on developing the inner substance. This will result in a relaxed attitude that will allow one to connect to the audience. It will remove the petty thoughts that agitate that mind and cause fear and anxiety. Knowing the subject of the speech from the inside out is also an important part. Hence, confidence and being a subject matter expert is the substance that one should develop.

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