I am at the airport; what’s new. I bought a cup of coffee from a cart vendor. The coffee was so bad it must have violated at least one of the laws of physics.
The person walking in front of me has just exited the first of two moving walkways. She had not walked it; rather she rode it, standing in the middle of the conveyance as though it was a ride at Six Flags. One hundred feet in front of her was walkway number two. She approached the moving platform with the same degree of trepidation one might expect of someone jumping from a plane for the first time. She steps on, begins to wobble and catches herself. Ride number two. I was tempted to ask her if the hundred feet she had just walked without the aid of a mechanical device had tired her so much that she could not take another step.
In my spare time I have been working (a little) on a talk on Meaningful Use I will be giving this month at New England’s HFMA conference. I have read about people who are afraid of public speaking—as though there was some other kind of speaking one could do—and I am unable to understand that fear. However, there are people who are afraid of the number thirteen, and I do not understand them either. Maybe that is because my undergraduate degree was in mathematics, and we learned early on that most numbers, while they may make fun of you or try to intimidate you cannot really hurt you. If I was going to be afraid of a number, I would imagine I would pick a cool number, something irrational like e, or perhaps an imaginary number. Wouldn’t it make more sense to be frightened of imaginary numbers?
Anyway. If you are at all like me—many of you are breathing a sigh of relief that you are not—you find it painful to listen to otherwise normal people who do not have the vaguest idea how to speak in front of more than one person. Most speakers are so uncomfortable with having to speak in public they make you feel uncomfortable.
Poor public speakers come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes two speakers will try to tag-team a talk. This approach usually yields twice the ineptitude. It winds up looking like two left-handed men trying to dance backward, neither of whom knows the woman’s part. Then you get the speakers who speak without pausing; an acute grammarian could not hope to drive a comma between words with a sledgehammer. Some presenters, fear inscribed on their forehead like the mark of Cain and a tuberculoid pallor painted across their face, hold onto the podium for support as though were they to let go they would collapse like a wet noodle. Instead they stand totally erect like toy soldiers in a tin box.
Others spew forth catechisms of clichés, thinking the words of others are far better than any they could put forth of their own. A lot of speakers will try to impress you with the amount of facts they have collected. Charts, lists, bullet points. 3-Ds, Bars and Pies. The average person hearing a presentation will remember whether the speaker was entertaining. They will also remember three facts. Every slide of every presenter shows more than three things. People spent a lot of time putting more information on slides than anyone will ever remember.
Facts and information can be found on Google. Good speakers tell you a story.
Imagine—perhaps the most powerful word in the English language. Tell someone a story and your audience will learn forward and listen.
If you are ever asked to speak or to give a presentation here is one tidbit that may help you—speak like you were speaking to a good friend, only speak louder and wear a clean shirt.