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‹ View all articles 20th March 2014

Managing your public speaking assumptions

Authenticity

You know the old adage... don't assume - because you make an... Well because U know why. And because swearing just isn't nice. But how do assumptions impact your public speaking?

We enter public speaking scenarios with certain assumptions.

  • How you will behave
  • How the audience will behave
  • How your equipment will behave (or misbehave)
  • How your surroundings will behave

All of these assumptions gear you up to be confident. Predictability lends itself to the comfort zone. When things go wrong we sometimes panic and step into old "coping" behaviors that don't reflect our authenticity.

For example:

'There will be 50 people attending my speech, who of course will pay attention and be very well-mannered. I'm completely prepared to speak, after having practiced extensively. I have my speech timed to exactly 15 minutes to the second. Just in case I forget my lines, I've placed note cards in my pocket. My slides and visual aids are raring to go. Nothing can go wrong!" 

The speaker above is very confident, which is a good thing. He's reassured by his estimated timing, the audience's purported response, his notes and presentation slides.

If a few of his assumptions were to be challenged, he would be able to adapt easily. For example, if 25 people showed up instead of 50 or one or two audience members began whispering, he may be able to keep his composure. But if something drastic and unexpected happened, if his assumptions were to snap, he may be thrown for a curve. So many things could happen to "shake" things up... an overly aggressive audience member, tripping while walking on stage, teleprompter problems. (Poor Michael Bay)

If he's not prepared for the unexpected, panic could easily take over. He could stumble over words or act overly important or pretend to know the answer to a difficult question when he in fact does not know. He would lose his "cool".

So how do you manage your assumptions when you've planned your whole speech around them?

Strip off the safety blankets. Who and what are you relying on to make sure you're successful?

  • A certain age group... I'll impress them if they're of THIS generation.
  • A knowledge level... My content will work if they don't know the material well.
  • Room layout... They'll enjoy my speech if we can do this certain exercise. 
  • Equipment... I'll look good if PowerPoint works...

Once you've addressed your public speaking assumptions, you can take one of two paths:

  1. Keep your safety blankets pulled up tight. Do everything you can to manipulate your environment, so you won't have to deal with the unexpected
  2. Learn how to adapt to changing circumstances without being thrown. Wobbling but never falling down. Read more on becoming a Weeble here.

As long as you place the expectations for success on things you can't control, you're in for a wobbly ride. Surprises happen every time someone steps to the podium, so place your confidence in your authentic self. Don't try to control the uncontrollable. And most of all don't ass-u-me.

 

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