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We Brits are wonderful, aren’t we?
We’re terribly polite, we’d never say ‘boo’ to a goose (I mean, who regularly speaks with geese anyway?) and we’re the masters of moderation.
Our quirky little island might have once ruled the waves, but as soon as we’re put in the spotlight we shrink, we feel awkward and we apologise constantly. Just another day in British life, you might say, but I think there’s more to it than that.
When we look at ‘good’ public speakers, like motivational speakers (often American) and Toastmasters fanatics we often find the whole public speaking thing rather creepy and a bit false.
Isn’t it ‘ikky’ to stand in the spotlight?
Isn’t it fundamentally ‘unBritish’ to demand that people look at you and listen?
Public speaking quibbles are certainly not an exclusively British problem, but there are certain British habits hold speakers back from doing a great job.
So, without further ado, here are the Top 5 British problems with public speaking.
The famous stiff-upper-lip can make our speaking too formal (read: DULL), unemotional and uninspiring. It might feel safe to hide behind a barrier of perfectionism when you’re speaking. It might feel professional to prepare every last word. It might feel ‘proper’ to keep buggering on when something goes awry. But what you’re really doing is creating a distance to your audience, rather than drawing them closer.
Audiences these days want to connect with their speaker, not to be given a professional-but-distant talk. We want your stories, your heart and your funny little quirks, not the stiff-upper-lip.
Ever met a stranger as you both approach a doorway and struggled to decide who goes through first? ‘After you,’… ‘No, no, after you.’ And so on? Of course you have, you’re British. It’s probably happened two times already today.
Whilst that’s very charming, ‘after you’ is a bit of a get-out in public speaking. We tell ourselves that we’re being very noble in inviting our junior colleague to take the stage instead of us; or that our business friend ‘needs the platform more than I do’, but really all this ‘after you’ is just being chicken.
To be given someone’s attention these days is a real gift – and public speaking gives that gift more than almost every other form of communication.
Avoiding public speaking helps nobody. Not you and not your audience.
Whilst a cup of Earl Grey and slice of Victoria Sponge are terribly nice, they are hardly bursting with unusual spices and flavour, are they?
The problem with British moderation is that it leads to just that, moderate public speaking. Bland voices, bland ideas, bland presentations. At least that’s better than offending, right?
If we want our message to be noticed, let alone listened to or acted upon, it simply cannot be bland. It’s actually better to risk offending a few members of the audience and leave others raving about you, than to leave the whole audience feeling non-plussed.
So… everything in moderation… including moderation!
Part of the reason we cringe at motivational speakers, especially American ones, is that we feel they’ve gone too big. Too ‘heroic’. Too ikky. It’s almost as if they have capes and on-display underpants. Culturally, we don’t want to be superheroes, we want to stay small and neat and a bit Hobbity.
As ‘nice’ as it may seem, this habit is no good in public speaking. Your audience want you to be slightly larger-than-life so that they can get behind you. They want passion and energy. They want you to be the hero that represents their cause. It may feel uncomfortable, but to be a great public speaker, you need to be willing to be a hero for your audience. The cape’s optional.
We’re well known for our apologetic tendencies, but being apologetic is no virtue for a public speaker.
Consider a piece of public speaking where you stand up, apologise for your topic and say you’ll try not to be too long. Your intention? To show respect to the audience and maybe add a little bit of self-effacing humour. You know, put everyone at ease a bit.
The outcome? Your apology actually makes the audience feel less inclined to listen. You’ve just undermined your topic and made a fool of your audience for bothering to be in the room listening to you.
If you want to serve your audience, take your topic as important and worth listening to. It’s not a grand ego trip of ‘Look at me, I’m so awesome’, it’s simply getting out of the way and letting your audience hear your message.
I’ve put together a 5-part email guide to help you make your audience to fall for you without needing to give up your beautiful Britishness.
Un-British to say, but it’s rather good, so I’d love it if you popped your name down to receive the whole thing. We’ll never share your email, that just wouldn’t be cricket.
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