Viewing public speaking as a performance

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The ability to speak in public (or the fear of speaking in public) is not unique to one group of people. I know quiet people who enjoy speaking up, and extroverted people who have had to work to overcome fear.

Many of the quiet changemakers I have interviewed do public speaking as part of their work. These people are often leaders of organizations, spokespeople for causes, or are educators. And again and again, I heard them use the word “perform” when it came to their experience public speaking.

They are on stage.

They are “on.”

They perform.

And then they are “off.”

It’s not to say they are faking it. It’s more like a bit of an out of body experience. Perhaps a heightened version of one’s public self.

I have a few theories on why public speaking works for quiet changemakers, and the main one is that public speaking is fairly one-directional.

It doesn’t require the back and forth of a conversation and it doesn’t require paying attention to the emotional energy and body language feedback to the same extent that small group discussion does. A good public speaker reads the room, most definitely, but not in such an intimate way as in small groups.

It doesn’t mean that public speaking doesn’t drain our energy reserves. Many quiet and introverted folks need alone time to recover after speaking. However, we do it because it’s important to our work and our cause.

In addition to taking a performance approach to public speaking, I suggest:

  • focus your speaking opportunities on topics that you are knowledgable and passionate about
  • take a class on movement and voice to practice different use of space when speaking
  • know your talk well enough so that you can focus on performance and not recalling every word you want to say

When I speak in public, my goal is generally to educate. Share a new idea. Provide option for people to take action. I will never be a charismatic motivation speaker. I help people ponder and learn. That’s my role and I’m happy to own it.