By Tim Hayes []

It’s a simple question: Are you nervous when you talk with your family over the dinner table?  Assuming the answer is “no,” we move on – “we” being me and the speaker I happen to be training at the time.

Why this particular question?  Because getting comfortable speaking in front of a group of people – no matter how large or small – is all a matter of perspective and confidence.  When you’re conversing over the dinner table, you have something to say, something to share.  When you’re at the microphone, it’s the same thing.

You’ve heard the old standard that people fear speaking in public more than death.  Seriously, now.  Can you imagine a more ridiculous and unbelievable statement?  The notion that any rational person would prefer to die – DIE! – rather than stand up and share ideas while speaking into a microphone.

Give me a break.  Come on, people.  This ain’t that hard. Again, think of the dinner table conversation.  You speak, others listen.  That’s it.  To quote Sean Connery’s character in The Untouchables, “Thus endeth the lesson.”

“But there are so many people out there.”  “The idea of seeing all those faces looking at me is what’s intimidating.”  “How can I get comfortable in front of a crowd of that size?”  Trust me, I’ve heard them all.

You want to know the dirty little secret?  It doesn’t matter how many people may be in an audience.  It truly doesn’t.  When I explain why, sometimes it takes clients a little deeper thinking to understand and accept the idea, but when they do, the anxiety melts away.  I’ve seen it over and over.

It’s simple mathematics.  A speech is a conversation.  A conversation is a connection.  And a connection happens between two people at a time.  The “math” is nothing more (and nothing less) than 1 + 1. 

If you are at the microphone, you can only connect to each person in the audience individually.  A “crowd” doesn’t have a single set of ears or eyes or a single mind – but each person in the audience does – and that’s how the connection is made.  You’re not speaking to an audience, or a crowd, or any other amorphous, enormous, intimidating being, in other words.  You’re speaking to one person at a time. 

The late Myron Cope, who provided colorful commentary on Pittsburgh Steelers radio broadcasts and hosted a radio sports talk show for decades, understood this principle very well.  When he launched his nightly talk show, as he described it in his autobiography, “I told myself that the show should more or less replicate the many evenings I had spent as a teenager idling with pals on a street corner in front of Sol’s Pharmacy, across the street from Ross’s Poolroom.  We debated the sports issues of the day past nightfall, or until a familiar cop arrived in a patrol car and ordered us to disperse.  There’s your talk show, Cope, I thought. Nothing pompous.  Make it fun.”

Cope spoke to thousands of people every night for more than 30 years, but knew he was really just talking with his friends on the street corner.  The same dynamic holds true for every speaker, whether they know it or not.

There just happens to be a greater number of those individuals hearing you, making his or her own individual connection with you as you speak. Just like on Myron Cope’s street corner, or over your own dinner table.

Copyright 2011 Transverse Park Productions LLC