Posted by: George E Burney | March 6, 2012

Public Speaking: Visualizing – “The Next Best Thing To Being There”

How can an inexperienced speaker gain “experience” before actually speaking to an audience? By visualization.

First, let me state clearly that there is no perfect substitute for actual experience. Nothing completely takes the place of actually getting up before an audience and speaking. Reading 100 books on public speaking, all by experts on the subject, cannot tell you exactly how you’ll feel when you first speak to an assembled group.

I don’t mean to imply that it will be an unpleasant experience. Instead, I’m merely making the point that some things, like falling in love, for example, have to be experienced by a person for himself. There are no substitutes. The only way to know exactly how you’ll feel when before an audience is to speak before an audience.

The inexperienced speaker is therefore in an awkward position. Experience is a great asset to a speaker, but if he has none, he’s like the person who is repeatedly turned down by potential employers simply because he’s had no experience at the position he’s applying for. If no one will hire him, how can he ever gain experience?

That reminds me of the true story of a barber who was cutting a patron’s hair. The customer, making casual conversation, asked the barber how long he had been cutting hair. The barber said, “You’re my first customer.” The customer quickly motioned for the barber to stop, leaned away from the barber and asked, “Do you mean that you’ve never cut anyone’s hair before?” The barber replied, “I have to start with someone, don’t I?”

Fortunately for the beginning speaker, he already has something which, while not quite the equivalent of experience, serves well as “the next best thing.” It’s his imagination, which he can use to visualize imagined speaking experiences.

He can think of the room he’ll speak in, how the chairs will be arranged. Where he’ll stand as he speaks. What the audience will look like from the speaker’s perspective. How large is the audience? What are the people on the front row wearing? How does he feel? (The answer should be “Great!” After all, he’s controlling this “experience,” and is actually rehearsing how he will feel.)

The idea is to make the imagined experience as “real” as possible. Why? So that when the time comes for the actual presentation, the novice speaker will feel that he’s often “been here, done this.” Since achieving “near-reality” is an objective of visualizing, this is not the time or place to skimp on details. The more details he supplies, the more vivid and realistic it becomes to him. The more he repeats this process, the better.

If you employ your imagination in this way, you’ll find that visualization will become one of your best tools. You’ll continue to use it, long after you’ve actually become an experienced speaker!

Copyright © 2012 by George Burney and betterpublicspeaking


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