Best speakers consider listeners

Dear Joan:
I am a working mother, very involved with my community, but I still have a big problem with public speaking. My problems started way back in grade school, when one had to write a theme for English class on your summer vacation, then you had to read it in front of the class. Whenever the teacher called on me, time and time again, I said I didn't have it done yet. Then I'd get away with not reading it at all because I think the teacher was sick of hearing about all the boring themes on summer vacations.

Even though most of the time I know most of the people I am speaking to, I still have a big problem. I was president of one of our community clubs, did the best I could, but still had problems speaking. Any suggestions on what to do to correct this?

Speaking to a group of adults is similar to trapping grade school kids against their will. The audience suffers a loss of power and control because it is at the mercy of the speaker. If you're like me, you are silently challenging the speaker to prove - in the first few minutes- that your need for relevant information won't be ignored or violated.

Your biggest fear is that you're audience feels trapped and helpless, convinced that what you have to say is dull. As you climb to the podium, you envision a sea of bored faces looking out the window, yawning and doodling. In order to be a more confident speaker, you will need to replace this mental videotape with a more positive one.

According to the Book of Lists, the fear of public speaking is the number one fear of North Americans. It's ranked over heights, spiders and even death. The naked feeling of expressing our opinions and ideas to a group of silent judges is unnerving for most of us. Those who manage to do it well have learned to overcome their fear and modify their thinking.

You have probably heard much advice about relaxing in front of a group, including, picturing your audience naked, deep breathing and being well prepared. Although all of these ideas are fine, they may not help you deal with your special case.

I believe a shift in your approach is the key to success: The next time you give a presentation, picture yourself sitting in the audience. Ask yourself, "What do I want to know about this subject?" "Why should I care?" "What is to be gained or lost if I don't use this information?"

Speakers who find out everything they can about an audience are usually the best speakers because they build their remarks around the audience's needs. The audience changes its initial reaction of "So, what's so important that I should listen to you?" to "Oh, you've been considerate enough of my feelings to answer my inner questions. What else do you have to say?"

Excellent speakers articulate these questions and answers to their audience. For example, it's not enough for the speaker to know why the information is important, he or she needs to explain the "why" to the audience. This applies to announcing upcoming events as a club president as much as it does to delivering a full-length speech.

Consider the difference between this:

"Today I would like to talk about marriage. I would like to discuss the difference between romantic love and companionship... Webster defines "marriage" to mean..."

and this:

"When was the last time you had a real door-slamming, yelling, blaming fight with your spouse? How many hours or days did it take you to make up? After it was over, did you wonder how it could have escalated to that level in the first place? Some of you may be wondering how to avert the next crisis before it happens. So have thousands of other couples I have counseled during the last 20 years. I'd like to share with you the 3 techniques that couples say have helped them the most..."

When you tune in to radio station WIIFM (What's In It For Me), that sea of faces becomes an expectant, interested group of people who want to hear what you have to say.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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