Public Speaking: Switch the focus from you to your audience and leave yourself alone

“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting, or living itself, which is the greatest art of all.” (Ray Bradbury)

Shooting for the stars, and assuming that your presentations are 100% works of art, how do we kick this unwelcome intruder into touch?

This issue of self-consciousness comes up a lot during our coaching sessions- particularly with regards to public speaking. Placed under the microscope of an audience’s attention, people get so wrapped up in themselves: what they look like; how they move; what their arms are doing; what their voice sounds like; whether or not they come across as confident or authoritative etc. etc.

This unhealthy level of self-orientation makes it extremely difficult to maintain any kind of connection with the audience- let alone build trust, influence or inspire- the very reasons to speak in the first place.

What always springs to mind, in response, is a phrase that was often used during my training as an actor: “Leave yourself alone.”

Let’s pick this apart.

To set the scene (no pun intended): If I was so engrossed with my character’s voice, their walk, their physicality, their shadow moves, the animal work that I’d done or any other ridiculous (yet totally relevant…oh I went in deep!) exercises that I did during my preparation, then I wouldn’t be present, connecting and affecting the other people in the scene or the audience.

It’s also rather dull for everyone involved.

Leave yourself alone. Trust your preparation and leave your homework at the door.

This phrase is just as relevant to you when you come to present.  Leave yourself alone and focus on your audience. The lower your level of self-orientation, the greater the level of trust you will build. (Take a look at our article on the Trust Equation where we delve into this in more depth.)

Easier said than done, I know.

What will really help, here, is having a greater sense of mission or purpose -having absolute clarity over your reason to speak, and addressing the audience’s needs. Ultimately, an audience wants to know what’s in it for them. They’re not interested in you and your hang-ups. They’ll only start focusing on you specifically if you’re not “congruent.”

According to research by Albert Mehrabian, if our words, tone and body language are not pulling in the same direction ie. If we’re not backing up what we say with how we say it, then the impact of communication breaks down as follows:

Words: 7%

Tone: 38%

Body Language: 55%

This is when we are not “congruent.” People pay more attention to our tone of voice and our body language than what we’re saying. That’s a shame.

When we’re congruent, and our thoughts, words, tone and body language are all in sync, people just hear your message. You almost become invisible. This is great communication. You and your ego get out of the way of the all-important message that you want to deliver to your audience.

The stronger our sense of audience-focused purpose, the easier that this becomes and the more congruent we’ll be. Everything is subservient to our message and the audience.

Be generous and spend some time addressing your audience’s needs. After all, it’s their time, not your time. If your ego is struggling with that (I get it, we all want to deliver a great presentation and be considered an excellent public speaker- that doesn’t make you a monster!) worry not! By dropping this focus on you and your presentational prowess, and focusing on your audience, the feedback will take care of itself. I promise.

If you’re not quite sure why you’re presenting, then of course you’ll feel a bit lost. These are perfect conditions for self-consciousness to ripen.

I fell deep into its clutches the first time that my fiancee’s mum came to watch me in action on the fringe at the Lord Stanley Theatre in Camden. So consumed was I by what she thought of me, that I was utterly lost to the play, its story, my colleagues on stage, and what on earth I was doing there- not very generous, and completely self-oriented.

“Serve the story.” My course director’s words ring in my ears. He’s not wrong. As a presenter, you’re there to serve your audience. Put your ego aside.

So, before you present next time, or even better, before you even set out to create your material, ask yourself: What’s my objective? How do I want to affect my audience? Be strict with yourself. Be as precise and succinct as possible. As a general rule, the stronger the objective, the better. Don’t be afraid to be bold.

This strong sense of purpose will leave there very little room for self-consciousness. You’re just not that important. So, do us all a favour and leave yourself alone.

by Chris Wickenden, 9th April, 2019

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.