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Public Speaking - Learning to Say, "I Don't Care!"

Jul 30, 2008
Early in the movie, The Fugitive, Officer Gerard catches up with Dr. Kimball near the outlet of a high dam. Gerard had been chasing Kimball not as a suspect in a crime (the murder of Kimball's wife), but as fugitive from justice. With seemingly no where to go, and Gerard's gun trained on him, Kimball still hesitates to surrender.

Looking Gerard straight in the eye, Kimball shouts, "I didn't kill my wife!"

Gerard, staring back at his captured prey, replies, "I don't care!"

Sometimes as a presenter you have to learn to accept that as long as you are performing by the rules, you can't necessarily care about how you are being received by every member of the audience.

In other words, one thing that should never be a source of discomfort for you is an audience member's response to your engagement at any one time.

When you complete your thought with a listener, and you pause and move to find your next target, there will be times when your new your target has his head down or is otherwise not returning your engagement.

Although once the audience realizes that you are actually engaging them as individuals, it's not likely to happen often, but when that does happen to you, it's an example of how you have to learn how to not care.

Seriously. The last thing you ever want to do is when you shift from one person to the next and the next one is not looking at you, is to give in to the temptation to quickly find another target. She may be asleep. He may be on his Blackberry.

You have to learn to some extent to simply not care. Here's where the win/win comes in, because the rest of the audience wins when you don't care and you simply continue on as you were. You certainly don't want to shift your vision, see something you don't like, and then quickly revert to aerosol eyes to find somebody else.

You have to really learn that there are all kinds of reasons for an audience member to not be engaged with you at that moment, and most of those reasons having nothing to do with you or the quality of job you're doing.

The side of caution

The problem is that part of the anxiety speakers feel is based on their ongoing assessment of what the audience is thinking about them. The brain is always going to make a worst case assessment, because it needs to err on the side of caution. It's going to think the worst, and determine that there's a threat.

In the absence of any totally proactive - "Oh, yes, you're great, I love you!" - response, your brain will tend to think all sorts of bad things. Your brain is looking for threats all the time, so that's what it finds.

When you turn to somebody and his head's down, or he's asleep, you're likely to say to yourself, "Oh, no, what am I doing? I must be boring." The reality is that the person's head is down because she was out at The Roadhouse until 5:00 in the morning.

You know, she came back late, had a shower, crawled into work, and now she's sitting in the dark and she falls asleep. There are all kinds of reasons why somebody might not be giving you totally positive feedback.

If you turn to your target, regardless of the response you get, you need to learn to just stick with that same person for the rest of your thought, and not be shifting around quickly, looking for another target.

The win for you in this situation is that for that particular engagement, you're using that person to reduce your visual over-stimulation by taking no more action than you would have if she were returning your contact.
About the Author
J. Douglas Jefferys is a principal at PublicSpeakingSkills.com, an international consulting firm specializing in training businesses of all sizes to communicate for maximum efficiency. The firm spreads its unique knowledge through on-site classes, public seminars, and high-impact videos, and can be reached through the Internet or at 888-663-7711.
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