Speech season

Someone tweeted this photo of me on stage a couple of weeks ago

I’ve given six presentations on three different topics over the past two weeks. I’m always a bit surprised when I get an invitation to speak. How do these groups find me, and why do they want me on their meeting agenda?

I’m not exactly hustling to get gigs. But do enough gigs and word spreads. Groups need speakers. And, well, I work cheap.

But the truth is I enjoy the opportunity to put together a talk and think through what would be worth saying to a particular audience. Preparing to express myself in public focuses my mind in a unique way and summons ideas that otherwise would never appear on their own.

And then, there’s the rush of being in front of an audience of live human beings. I still feel a twinge of fear before beginning. Public speaking makes you vulnerable in a very, well, public way. Giving a speech will heighten your senses and quicken your pulse. It’s a thrill ride of fear and excitement and will tax you physically and mentally and emotionally. We all need more of that in our too safe and mundane lives.

My usual routine at the beginning of a presentation is to greet the audience, smile, and then pause for a long two seconds, centering myself in the moment and taking the measure of the audience as they do the same of me. That tends to calm me and settle me into a more relaxed and confident groove. Often, I get into a zone, a sort of flow state, even, that’s hard to replicate off stage. I draw energy from shining eyes in the crowd and from those that seem especially engaged. Seeing those in an audience who actively energize me makes me want to be a better, more encouraging, smiling, nodding audience member when it’s my turn to sit instead of stand.

My aim in speaking to a group is to awaken possibility, to spark something that wasn’t present before I spoke, and to change the world by possibly changing even just one audience member’s perspective.

Most people seem to generally have low expectations for public speakers. Unfortunately, considering all the bad lectures and sermons and speeches and meetings we’ve all had to endure, mediocrity, or worse, is what we’ve come to expect when a speaker stands before an audience.

There’s a low bar for what most consider a successful speech. If you’re in front of an audience, then, it’s easier than you imagine to surprise and delight by preparing thoughtfully and by just putting some genuine emotion into the effort. Unleash your charisma. Let them see that you care. Have the courage to uncork some energy and passion and give the audience the gift of your fully engaged presence.

I don’t know if the audiences I’ve spoken to in the last two weeks have benefitted much from hearing me, but I certainly am better for having stood before them.