I like public speaking. Gathering info, organizing thoughts, using bullet points. My dream job.
Somewhere, though – somewhere. It gets weird.
Maybe I begin editing mid-thought and ‘uh-wha-the-I-‘ comes out instead of the new cooler thing I just thought up. Or the audience sounds like a laugh track, and I find myself doing crazier things in the weightlessness of ‘they think I’m funny!’ Crazier things like making jig movements with my arms and talking through my chin. Things like saying, “Woooo!” Like making sound effects to explain a point. Making faces. Jigging. Goofiness slips into me and I have to stop.
So I smile when that happens. Then I step behind the lectern of public speaking. If I’m goofy short enough- if I catch it before they call me on it -it works. I’m forgiven! Laughs lurch in, fill the awkwardness. Smooth it away. Like being locked out of my house in my towel. I’m embarassed-the neighbors are shocked—but all is forgiven if I’m terrified, apologetically hold the towel and make efforts to get in the door. Maybe they’ll even chuckle as they back out of the drive. IF, however, I were to saunter out in my towel, grab the paper, wave to a friend (casual and nonplussed) – disgust and rolling of eyes. Being accidentally an idiot – okay. But purposely- you’re in no man’s land. A jerk.
So it is with speaking. Walk too far out on the laugh track and hang over the edge– and the forgiveness (possessed, I say! no-seizure, right? Poor thing.) will turn into muddy silence.
Being sensitive to shifts remains the most powerful tool when speaking to a group. When you lose someone (‘boring’, ‘can’t hear ya’, ‘hurry up’, ‘not this again’), they’ll shift. Head drops to the hand, legs uncross then recross, bodies lean to one side. A fire could break out. Time is limited. Change the subject. Wrap up with quick words. Caffeinate your tone. Be abrupt. And Edit. Right then. Chop up your nice sentence into baby mush and get to the next part. If the speaker believes that moving to the next point will calm the shifting, the speech dies. Keep to the key phrases, use a transition word and smile. And move. Walk about. Gesture. Find an eye.
Until, of course, you feel like jigging.