Thursday, March 18, 2010

Put Away those Public Speaking Fears

The prospect of a public speaking presentation is enough to make anyone’s palms sweat (admit it, you just shuddered a little even thinking about it). It doesn’t even have to be a large event – for some artists, talking to people they don’t know about their art is a dreadful part of gallery openings. Your mom told you not to talk to strangers and for many of us, the lesson has stuck well into adulthood.

It doesn’t have to be as awful as we make it out to be. As a cripplingly shy child, I spent most of my teenage and early adult years studiously following the aforementioned motherly advice. So if I can talk myself out of the corner and in front of the microphone, you can too.

So let’s say that you’ve had a moment of insanity and signed up to present something about your art in front of an audience, podium and everything. In reality, the buildup is far worse than the actual presentation. Once, I found myself so relieved to be onstage just to have it over with, I knew there had to be a better way to go about this. You would be amazed if you actually listen to what your mind is telling you in advance of such an event – it’s a mean, nasty little devil that should be quieted immediately.

So the next time I gave a speech, I parried back at the unhelpful “you can’t do that” and “they’re going to laugh you off the stage” with a few simple thoughts: first, I forced myself to look forward to the presentation. I imagined that the audience was full of people who already liked me, were already interested in what I was going to say, and who were genuinely fans of my art. Of course, that wasn’t necessarily the case, but it was remarkable how easily repeating “this is going to be ok, it might even be fun” chased away that little demon. It’s a less distracting variation of picturing your audience naked.

Second, I realized how eager audiences are to reflect. They’re essentially blank canvases, and they are looking to you to set the tone. I know, a little bit of that terror just crept back into your mind – holy cow, how could I ever take on that kind of responsibility? But once you realize that this is a pivotal part of your speech, even more important that what you’re actually talking about, you can start to craft a way to walk, speak, and present that appropriately mirrors your style. Look to your artwork to help you with this, because for most of us, it’s a place of remarkable connection and peace.

Third, preparation is key (but don’t let the demons back in). Imagine that you’re a speechwriter for a friend, your twin, or your alter ego. You want to equip them with enough notes, outlines, or even a fully written speech to do the best job they can. It can be easy to over think and get yourself worked up about how awful the presentation is going to be, which is why it’s good to believe that it’s for someone else.

And last, recognize that it’s not the end of the world. It might be embarrassing, but a very wise woman once said that if you’re not embarrassed 30% of the time, you’re not putting yourself out there enough. Promise yourself a big reward when you’re done and dive in – even if it’s really bad, you can use those feelings to create some incredible art once it’s over.

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth Downing, Writer and OVAC Board Member

OVAC offers an Artist Survival Kit Retreat: “ARTiculate” April 16-18 at Post Oak Lodge in Tulsa. This will improve their ability to articulate artistic and career concepts, educate others and make public presentations. Led by innovative educator Jane Varmecky, the retreat will include interactive training about adult education techniques and the dynamics of group training. There will also be time to learn from and share with other participants. Learn more at  

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