Presentation Training May Be Harming Your StaffBy: Melissa Lewis
Mandy, a bright, attractive professional woman, had a fear of speaking in front of groups. Recognizing that her feelings of vulnerability and self-consciousness were limiting her potential, she decided (at her manager's suggestion) to take a speaking skills class. She showed up for class filled with trepidation. The students spent the morning listening to the instructor explain the rules of public speaking. That afternoon, they gave their presentations to the group.
After nervously waiting through five other talks, Mandy took her place at the front of the room-her heart pounding and hands shaking. She plowed through her 10-minute presentation with her mind in an out-of-body blur. When she finished, Mandy obeyed the instructor's direction to remain front-and-center to receive her feedback. Comments started with a few "That's a good color on you" and "You had good eye contact" platitudes, but then the real critique began. She used way too many "ums." She shifted her weight too much. Her hair was in her eyes. Her voice was too soft. Most of all, her excessive gestures simply had to be brought under control. Luckily, the instructor had a gesture-reduction plan. He playfully took a piece of rope from a cardboard box, used it to bind Mandy's hands behind her back, and had her give the entire presentation over again.
Did this experience help Mandy overcome her feelings of vulnerability and self-consciousness? Of course not. She shuffled home feeling humiliated and victimized. Rather than compassionately working with Mandy as the vulnerable, capable, gifted human being she is, the instructor treated her like a horse whose spirit and wild habits had to be broken with ropes. Literally.
Previous Training As A Source of Fear
In my 15 years of coaching public speaking, I've worked with hundreds of anxiety-ridden speakers. Surprisingly, they often referred to previous speaking training as a source of their fear. They've been badgered, nit-picked, and intimidated-all stemming from a well-intentioned belief that if you fix the mechanics, confidence will follow.
For many people, this approach is, at the very least, ineffective-and it can damage one's sense of dignity. If a your employees see the audience as the enemy, mastering the art of the upward-hand-sweep-with-the-dramatic-flourish will not make those listeners seem any less threatening. Even worse, this mechanical approach can be devastating if the student feels insecure to begin with, then walks away with an even longer list of deficiencies to correct.
Of course, there's value in noticing distracting habits and getting them under control. For people who are already comfortable in the spotlight, great; go ahead and fine-tune the mechanics. But for those participants like Mandy, for whom anxiety is the primary issue, a mechanical approach may do more harm than good.
What's the Answer?
So what needs to change? I believe there are four fundamental rights your staff should expect when developing their speaking skills:
Even horses deserve that.
© 2002, Upside Down Speaking
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