Should your audience be in their underpants?

“According to most studies, people's number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you're better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld, American comedian

Actually, I like public speaking. Sure, I’m a bit nervous before I go on but I’m also excited and eager. My basic premise is that my audience is curious, interested and kind. It doesn’t matter who they are, where the event is taking place or what the topic is. My audience wants to hear what I have to say and is not interested in seeing me fail... I indulge in this self-talk for a couple of minutes every time before I take to the stage. And it works. My audience is curious, and interested and kind.

It’s self-fulfilling prophesy at its best. I behave on stage in a way that lines up with my thinking about the audience and the audience responds to this. My non-verbal cues are saying „you’re curious“ and the audience, picking up on this, reacts with a „yes, we are“.

And this is why the old tip, to picture your audience sitting in their underpants needs to be set aside. Yes, it can make for a joke but actually, if you really do it, aren’t you in a way trying to humiliate your audience so you can feel superior? What are your non-verbal cues saying, „you look silly“? I wonder what the audience response is to that.

If a mantra like curious, interested and kind doesn’t suit you, how about speaking to a bold and challenging audience? Or to an open-minded and reflective one? Or to...whatever you like actually. As long as the attributes work for you and are positive and respectful.

Next time you need to give a speech or presentation, try thinking about your audience in this light. Endow them with your selected, positive attributes and see how it works. I’d be curious to hear how you get on and which audience traits are the ones that work for you!

(Originally posted on LinkedIn July 14, 2014)