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How Most New Public Speakers Shoot Themselves In The Foot Right From The Start

August 27, 2018

Most of this stuff is new. . .

The young comic was trying to salvage whatever he could of a bad set. He was new and it showed. Not because he had some Manufactured On date. And it wasn’t even his looks. He blended in well with the other new comedians at the Open Mic. But, he was obviously still new to performing and his statement “most of this stuff is new. . .” was a dead giveaway.

I spoken in Church yesterday. The Mormon church has a lay ministry. That means that everyone working to hold services is a volunteer, from the bishop who presides over the congregation (which is called a ward) to the people who deliver the sermon. Well, yesterday, that was me.

I have a confession to make. I enjoy speaking in public. I was a member of Toastmasters for many years, but even before that, I had a ball speaking in front of people. Yesterday I started my remarks with,

I wish I could say that I’m sorry to be here, or that I wish the previous speakers or the song had gone on longer. I can’t say that. I am honestly delighted to be addressing you today and I appreciate the opportunity.

How well I spoke, or how well I delivered a sermon on “small and simple things,” I’ll leave up to those who were there. I know I enjoyed it.

I used that opening on purpose. Because regular members of the congregation are the ones who are called on to deliver messages across the pulpit, many members of the ward have stood where I was standing. What for me was a joy, for them was a terror. It’s almost universally accepted that they will start with a version of,

I wish I could say I’m happy to be here. . .

I don’t begrudge anyone’s fear of public speaking. Some polls show people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. Meaning they would rather die than give a talk in public. I feel for those people. I am grateful that is not one of my fears.

But, if you find you must speak in public, there are a couple of things you can do to prevent shooting yourself in the foot. . .or the mouth as the case may be.

Several years ago, I was touring a series of new homes here in Utah in an event called the “Parade of Homes.” It’s an annual event where builders across the valley will show off one house that they’ve constructed. Home prices can span the gamut from starter homes to multi-million dollar mansions. We were touring one particularly impressive home. It had soaring celings, a covered bridge over a manmade stream, numerous upgrades and amenities. I asked the builder, who was contracting for the home owner,

How much did this house cost to build?

I’m not sure, actually. I wasn’t the finance guy.

But, more than I’ve got, right? Ha ha

I don’t know. Just from looking at you I can’t tell how much money you have.

That brief conversation has stuck with me. The people you meet do not know you. They don’t know if you are first time speaker, or if you’ve done it a thousand times. In fact, if you are being asked to speak somewhere, people in the audiance are predisposed to thinking you have something to say. They are generally going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Why would you give it back?

Speakers who start their remarks by saying, “I don’t want to be here speaking,” are suggesting to the audience the idea that maybe they don’t want to be here listening. Just as a comic who says, “Most of this stuff is new” is telling his audience, “These jokes will probably not be very funny.”

I’m not suggesting you lie. If you really are terrified, don’t give my opening saying you are delighted to be there. But, also don’t insult the audience. They want to like you. Give them the chance.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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