Don’t let anything silly like the rules get in the way of your message!

Toastmasters is considered by many to be the standard option to develop public speaking and presentation skills. I’ve been to toastmasters (and similar) meetings and it was not uncommon for speakers to get ripped to shreds over a word repeated too many times, or not knowing what to do with their hands, for example. It was obvious to me that in many speakers there was a feeling of discomfort lying beneath the uneasy gestures and repetition, which was frequently overlooked. The feedback given would presuppose that the speaker were capable of controlling their own INVOLUNTARY behaviours (gestures and repetitions, for example), whilst intoxicated by a cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones). It was clear to me that, unlike my experiences of Toastmasters, I would coach speakers to manage their stress hormones first and let the behaviours flow. No more picking over repeated words, nervous twitches, stammers, stutters, gestures too big or too small. I began addressing those underlying feelings of nervousness and anxiety directly. I didn’t encourage my clients or participants to ignore those feelings, or even remove them, I helped them to use these feelings as resources, to own them, to express them.

There seemed to be a rule book about public speaking and presenting that was blinkered and flawed, so I (metaphorically) ripped it up! I didn’t dictate any conventions, or rules for speaking, I said “anything goes, as long as you create the impact you are after“. Jim Morrison, one of the greatest performers of an age of great performers, famously performed an entire set with his back to the audience. Page 1 of any performance rule book says “always face your audience”. However, Morrison was able to create impact by defying this rule! Of course this doesn’t mean that you can’t create impact by following the rules, just don’t let anything silly like the rules get in the way of your message!

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