(slight change of direction c.f. recent posts. found this on my ancient, expiring Hubpages account and thought it might help someone. it got me a score of 71, which sounds like it was reasonably useful…)
Why Can Public Speaking Scare Us?
Why should we be afraid of talking to group of people?
Can you talk to one person without being nervous? What about three people? Say the four of you are chatting away; are you able to join in? How about ten people? What if those ten are sitting down and you’re standing up in front of them? What about larger groups? You’re at the front and there are three hundred people looking at you, waiting for you to start your talk. Or a stadium full of people, studying your every movement, every sound, every pore?
Most people get a bit scared at some point on this scale, the questions are (i) why? and (ii) what can we do about it?
From Where Comes the Fear?
So at what point did you feel fear? A surprising number of us have some fear even when talking to just one person! But as soon as the number of people increases, and their attention on us becomes more direct, almost all of us feel some nerves.
One reason might be that we think they’re waiting for us to ‘perform’. They’re waiting for something special, and it’s our job to give it to them. If we fail, will think we’ll look stupid, or laughable, or pathetic, or any number of other words that make us feel fear and rejection.
So What’s Really Happening?
It’s important to really think what’s happening here. We are afraid of becoming less in people’s eyes than we were just before we began our talk.
But the question is not ”why do we feel like that?”, or “how can we avoid the fear?”, because that focuses on the fears, which is, in fact, the source of the problem:
We go into the room thinking about ourselves and our fears
The question real question we should be asking ourselves is, “How can we make sure we give something to those people — something they value?” As soon as we do that, our whole attitude changes.
We’re not doing a talk to avoid humiliation (or whatever you fear will happen during/after your talk), we’re doing a talk to give to other people. Doing a talk is a gift from you to them. And everyone likes gifts, so you’ll be fine.
Who’s Receiving the Gift?
Who are your audience? Do you know them all individually? If so, go through the stuff you’re considering sharing with them and imagine whether it’s something that they’ll find useful - even if they don’t know it yet.
If you don’t (or can’t possibly) know everyone in the audience, ask yourself what ‘kind’ of people will be out there? Are they opera-attending, PhD-wielding, rich people? (Don’t worry, you still have stuff they need to hear.) Or maybe they’re more into country music and horses, or inner-city hip-hop and edgy fashion, or maybe they have harsh life stories and little money? Or maybe… well, you get the idea.
Either way, you’ll have some idea who they are, and you can tailor your message - your gift - accordingly. Think who they are, think to what they’ll respond, and imagine what kind of information gift they might like from you.
Creating the Gift
Once you see a talk as a sort of gift to people, it becomes a lot clearer what your job really is. You need to do the following things:
Wrapping the Gift
So, you’ve got your topic, developed your ideas, made sure they’re short and sweet. Great! But there’s still one more thing. You need to present it as nicely as possible.
All gifts should look good. I’m not saying the way a talk looks gives it value (it’s the content that gives it value) but making a talk look and sound good signals that you have taken care over your gift. What does that mean for a presentation?
But remember, you’re not doing this to make them like you, you’re doing it to give them something meaningful, valuable and well-presented, because you value your audience. You’re going to give them something you know they want or need. You can’t go wrong.
Soon, I really will try to post something that ISN’T to do with the Aberystwyth Arts Centre!
However, this is an open letter, written by Stephen West to Prof. April McMahon that makes some powerful points. (Stephen West organised the petition that was handed to Prof. April McMahon last weekend.)
Dear April McMahon
Thank you for agreeing to our meeting to hand in the petition and to discuss, briefly, the new strategic plan with yourself and Professor Aled Jones. I would like to respond to your statements on tv and in the Cambrian News, particularly as you have repeated that we, the petitioners, have ‘manufactured the threat‘ and are ‘scaremongering’.
I think you have answered some questions that we didn’t ask and avoided the questions that we did ask. You claim ‘we have no intention of closing the Arts Centre’ and that ‘we will not exclude any members of the community’. Well I should hope not, that is not what we have put to you. The petition, far from being ‘scaremongering’ is a genuine response to the fear and upset caused to employees of the university, particularly the Arts Centre, by the current trend of using ‘suspensions’ as a means of implementing university policies. I have not accepted your claim that the suspensions were ‘co-incidence’, because we learn that these high-profile cases that sparked the petition are far from the only recent cases, as confirmed by the recent resolutions of the ULU. I am sure you can see that, leaving aside for the moment your prepared statements and official position, it is almost impossible for us to believe that there is no point at which you can step in to immediately improve a desperate situation and begin to restore some of the trust between the university and its valuable staff.
Note that the 1800 petitioners are not employed by, even have no contractual links to, the university, for the simple reason that if they are not specifically gagged they are sufficiently afraid for their jobs or their business should they be seen to oppose an action of the Vice Chancellor. I have even heard from senior managers working in universities 100s of miles from Aberystwyth afraid to displease their own Vice-Chancellors by signing. This university (and some other British universities) seem to manage staff by fear and bullying. I am sure that you cannot be proud of this impression.
You are concerned some comments seem unpleasant and personal - I think there are a tiny number of comments like that, for which I apologise - I have done no editing. However there is nothing so unpleasant and personal than being excluded from your workplace and suspended pending a genuinely Kafkaesque investigation - you remember poor Joseph K (The Trial, Franz Kafka) being told his case ‘was progressing’ without knowing what he is accused of or whether there is any end to the investigation by nameless bureaucrats. I also do not think you can claim we have used ‘emotional language’. The emotion button is turned up to about 1.5 at the moment - could go higher.
You refer to our wonderful Arts Centre when you seems to mean my wonderful Arts Centre, since we hear you are offering space in the Arts Centre to other Aberystwyth institutions without consulting the proper staff at the Arts Centre. I repeat what I urged you to accept in our meeting, and I am afraid you may not have considered this seriously enough, that the running of a top-flight arts venue is so different to running an academic department, or, say, a local authority department, that an arts venue within the aegis of an academic or government institution has to be managed with great flexibility and tact and extra care.
This brings me to the secondary concern of the petition; the Arts Centre is indeed our Arts Centre, built and set up with an unprecedented grant from Arts Council of Great Britain, the Theatr y Werin funded by the public of Mid Wales, the expansions of galleries, dance studios and educational facilities and studios by grants from Arts Lottery and Royal Institute of British Architects among many others including a funding agreement with the Arts Council of Wales and the vital support of Ceredigion Council. As I said when we delivered the petition, the university is one of the stakeholders in the Arts Centre, not the sole owner and certainly not the controlling interest. Therefore the intention set out in the Strategic Plan to use the Arts Centre for more academic and research purposes (while desirable in a venue in trusting and open relationship to the executive) may in the current situation contravene the rules of Arts Lottery funding leading to a fear of the university having to pay back grants which have been awarded on the basis of the Arts Centre’s artistic independence. Your reassurance that there are no plans to radically restructure the Arts Centre begs the question ‘how much restructure do you think, and more importantly do we think, is not radical? The centre is an ‘asset’ built up over many years by public money and the creative efforts of its staff - to offer space in the Arts Centre for purposes for which it has not been designed or funded, without the full involvement of the director and other relevant staff, would indeed be ‘asset-stripping’.
Thank you for your attention and
Stephen West, artist, petition organiser, Llangadfan
cc. Professor Aled Jones
Over the past year, I’ve had to watch people I know (and know of) being damaged and demoted and sacked (put on ‘gardening leave’), all because of the apparently thoughtless, heartless implementation of a plan that is cleverly presented as something to which we tacitly agreed.
I’m talking about the restructuring work that’s been happening in my local university here in Aberystwyth.
Throughout the UK there are many similar plans being put into place using many similar techniques. I’m not saying there’s anything particularly special about what’s happening here — unfortunately — but it is happening, and it is here, and I seem to be able to help publicly disagree with it.
So about a month ago I decided to do something that may seem a little silly. Now, I’m not someone who stands on a street corner shouting about things; nor am I someone who writes snarky letters to the editor of a paper that might be ignored as ranting; nor am I well-connected or influential. I can’t do any of those things. All I can think to do is use the great British institution known as satire.
At my core, I’m a writer. It’s not what I do, it’s who I am, and it’s all I have to offer. So I set up @FakeAprilMcM on Twitter. To my amazement, three weeks later it had gone viral in the university and beyond.
It’s been seen as an attack on the real Prof. McMahon, but it actually isn’t. If anything it’s more of a gift to her: it shows her a side of her employees that they can never show her to her face, because they’ve seen what happens to people when they do that. People are relieved of their jobs and they can’t say why; no one knows what’s happening for sure; it’s all dark and hushed.
So I’m not bubbling and fermenting opinion here; I’m just highlighting the way people already feel. In fact, I believe this is why there are printed copies of FakeAprilMcM being shown and shared in private, hidden in filing cabinets around the university: FakeApril was/is a lightning rod for people’s frustration and anger and fear.
If Prof. McMahon likes, she can reflect on the strength of this frustration and fear, and she could use it to help her choose a kinder, more democratic way of implementing her plans, instead of slapping down disagree-ers with disciplinary procedures that were designed to protect fellow workers. Instead, we hear tales that the VC of the university censors and gags those who oppose her; if true, presumably it is because she doesn’t have the confidence to convince people with reasonable arguments.
Obviously I don’t know where things will go from here, though I doubt Prof. McMahon will take FakeApril very seriously — yes, she may get annoyed with me but that’s not what I mean by ‘seriously’ — I mean I doubt it will alter the way she does business with other human beings, because she seems to have determined that the health and well-being of her fellow human beings is less important than her plans, for a smallish university, on the west coast of Wales.
I’m not trying to diminish Aber. I love this place: I’ve lived here half my life. My children have lived all their lives here. The fact we all know each other, the fact there are no strangers because we all share common friends, the fact that we can’t walk down Great Darkgate St. without seeing someone we know, I would suggest these are reasons to be repelled by any suggestion of someone trying to force their own agenda on our community.
Of course, we can’t see Prof. McMahon’s thoughts, but if we look at her actions then I would argue it’s a reasonable conclusion that she’s not very bothered about ‘collateral damage’, or some other euphemism that refers to real people’s broken lives, mental suffering and loss of earnings. I think it very likely that some people will never recover from what’s happened to them, and that their only crime was to be in the way of someone’s plan.
So, today I am sticking my head above the parapet. I might need to ask for your support over the next few months, or I might be ignored, but either way I’m going to continue to write about this.
If you want to help, promote this page in whatever way you can.
I’m talking at the 2012 Aberystwyth Book Festival on Monday.
Details are here:
It’ll be brilliant. And you can support local authors and publishers.
Tell the world.
A copy of my book “Hordesmen’s Master” has been requested by the annual Aberystwyth Book Festival as a prize for a competition they are running!
I don’t know whether to laugh or cheer :) Either way, I’m happy.
I’ll be doing a talk at the Festival, and will be selling books.
Hope to see you there, December 10th, venue to be confirmed, but somewhere in Aberystwyth Arts Centre or Library I would imagine.
I’ve been getting a *lot* of good comments about “Hordesmen’s Master” from test readers, copyeditors and other writers :) I was really concerned about this book, so I have been making some careful changes over the last few weeks — it seems they’ve been effective.
The print manuscript is almost finalised and should go off to the printers this week! I’ll let you all know when it’s available on grŵpgwyn.com and Amazon :)
Those of you who have bought an eBook version can get a FREE updated copy once the print version is finalised; just email me c/o grŵpgwyn.
Every now and then (more often than I would like) real life takes over and makes it impossible for me to write — at least I can’t write anything that’s good enough to end up in a book.
I’m just coming out of one of those times.
I’ve been doing two full-time jobs for the last couple of months, and as time went by the amount of work has become more and more intense until last week I was doing crazy hours.
Often when I’m working hard I actually find it relaxing at the end of the day to write a short piece about something, just to do something creative. But recently I’ve got the end of the day and simply collapsed, until it was time to get up in the morning and do it all again.
Hopefully, I can get back to writing “A False Sense of Comfort” now (see my the link for the blog about that book’s development), and I’ve got another secret project that’s tangentially related that I’ve recently started up.
More excitingly, “Hordesmen’s Master” has finally been published in eBook form at grwpgwyn, and will soon be available in printed and Kindle form at Amazon.
Still, I guess we need real life to make itself known like this — if we only lived in our own constructed worlds all the time (okay, we do exactly that, all the time) then we wouldn’t have anything to write about. We write about life, so we need to live it.
Ugh. The last few weeks have been all work work work. Looking forward to some writing time soon.
For the past week, I’ve been trying to think of something to write about the Writer’s Workshop Festival I was at in York last weekend, and I’ve failed.
I wanted to capture something of the collective commitment to writing; the open, caring attitude of the organisers and speakers; the gorgeous venue that sets you apart from every day life, and the friendships that have been forged. And that’s without all the new knowledge and tips and inspiration from the many sessions and workshops. But I can’t find a way to put things that doesn’t sound like that list I just gave, nor a way of expressing it that will mean anything to the rest of the human race who wasn’t there.
Then it struck me, that’s what was special about it. It’s a place and a time in which you share something with others, and you’re changed, and you leave different because of your unsharable experience there, in York. You’re affected by the things people have said, their wisdom, and their gestures of kindness; not to mention the large quantities of alcohol consumed. Well, by some of us. It marks you, almost ritualistically, as someone who’s serious about becoming a writer, not least because you have to take a risk and pay quite a lot of money to people you’ve never met, and travel to a place you may never have been before, to spend a weekend with people you don’t know.
However, after last weekend I would happily toss my car keys to any of them (70s middle-class partying references not included) in complete trust. They’re an amazing group of people who have changed a lot of lives for the better. Not just the people who got agents and/or publishers interested, also the people like me who were encouraged by conversations with hardened industry people, who told us we had what it takes, given a few minor changes.
If you’re a writer, and you can get to York for the middle of September next year, I promise you it will be worth it.