Speech Tip: In Their Underwear and Without (Nervous at the Podium?)
You have a speech to give. You are nervous. You’ve earned your place at the microphone by being a great leader. However, this doesn’t change what your nerves are telling you. The pressure is on: The company is depending on you. And you are afraid you won’t perform.
People think actresses find public speaking easy, and it’s not easy at all; we’re used to hiding behind masks.
I think Fonda is right on. Being skilled at acting doesn’t mean someone is comfortable speaking in front of an audience. And if they get nervous, what about the rest of us?
What can you do?
Let’s Give It a Name
It is called glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. More colloquially, it is called stage fright. You aren’t alone—75% of all speakers find themselves afraid at some point. I’d argue more that there’s more than that. I think the other 25% are lying.
It could be you see everyone in the audience and are concerned they will judge you, or that they will not understand you. Or you aren’t sure you’ll know your material well enough and slip up.
“Brady Bunch” father Mike Brady, played by Robert Reed, gives his TV daughter Jan some advice for her nervousness in the fifth season episode, “Driver’s Seat.” Jan, played by Eve Plumb, was involved in a high school debate. She was frozen in fear.
Mike tells her a story:
The Underwear Story
There is a famous old story about a man who had to get up and speak in front of some very important people and he was petrified.
A friend gave him some advice, saying, “Look, when you get up in front of those V.I.P.s, imagine them in their underwear.” I bet some of you are thinking about that right now.
His argument was that the man realized that his audience was only human. I partly agree.
They are only human, that’s true. The method for resolving the concern isn’t to think of them in a humiliating situation, but in an equalizing one. You are just having a conversation with one person, times however many people are listening.
By thinking of this as a dialogue with one person, you can adjust your view of this as nothing more than meeting a friend for coffee.
Nervousness is natural and can be addressed by practice. Know your material, know the room, and know your audience, and have a conversation.
As to the matter of underwear, there’s a story I’ll tell you about how my audience saw me in my underwear. That’s another post.
Are you nervous? Let’s work through this together.