The #1 Rule of Public Speaking…and Thanksgiving
Jerry Seinfeld once noted that if the number one self-professed fear of Americans is public speaking, then people at a funeral would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.
What is it about standing in front of a crowd that strikes such terror within us? As a person who regularly submits to this dread-inducing exercise, I have a two part answer: (1) being known for who we really are and (2) being judged for it. With these stressors in view, it makes perfect sense that the great temptation when confronted with a speaking obligation is to fake it: to present a false version of oneself. Presenting a “persona” gets one off the hook of both oratory terrors: We don’t put our real self out there, and therefore, whatever criticism might come our way isn’t really about us.
As appealing as the fake-it-till-you-make-it strategy is for public speaking, it is also a guarantee for failure. Faking it for the sake of self-preservation runs counter to the #1 rule for public speaking, which is simply: CARE. Care about your topic. Care about the words you choose. Care about the people you are speaking to. Care. Lead with your heart. Let your passion shine forth and your enthusiasm glow. If an audience knows that a speaker really cares, they will forgive a host of other rhetorical errors and impediments. When a speaker presents their true selves and has the courage to do so in a thoughtful, vulnerable way, listeners are irresistibly drawn in.
Something similar is at work as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday. In the coming week, we will be obliged to give voice to the things that make us grateful. In classrooms, in churches, around dinner tables with friends and family, we will give thanks. Many of us will be tempted to say the “right words” or say something that might be surprising or clever. In other words, we’ll be tempted to fake it.
I suggest to you that the #1 rule of Thanksgiving is also the #1 rule of public speaking: CARE. What do you truly care about? Give thanks for it. What moves your passions? Find words of gratitude to share about that. What touches the essential you? Open yourself enough to let others see it and how much you care. This kind of thoughtful, vulnerable thanking produces a spiritual momentum that draws others in. Passionate gratitude inspires others to follow suit.
I ask myself regularly, and with humility, “What kind of person arranges their life to do public speaking in front of a large group of people on a weekly basis?” Someone who’s a bit daft, that’s who! Guilty as charged. I’m raising my hand here in sincere confession, but I’m also going with it. Given that I’ll be opening God’s word, speaking on his behalf, and singing songs with folks as long as I have life and breath, here’s my pledge: To put as much intention, heart and CARE into each and every opportunity.
Might you be willing to do the same for this upcoming Thanksgiving Day?