The Art of Public Speaking HTML version
ACQUIRING CONFIDENCE BEFORE AN AUDIENCE
There is a strange sensation often experienced in the presence of an audience. It may proceed from the gaze of
the many eyes that turn upon the speaker, especially if he permits himself to steadily return that gaze. Most
speakers have been conscious of this in a nameless thrill, a real something, pervading the atmosphere,
tangible, evanescent, indescribable. All writers have borne testimony to the power of a speaker's eye in
impressing an audience. This influence which we are now considering is the reverse of that picture--the power
their eyes may exert upon him, especially before he begins to speak: after the inward fires of oratory are
fanned into flame the eyes of the audience lose all terror.
--WILLIAM PITTENGER, Extempore Speech.
Students of public speaking continually ask, "How can I overcome self-consciousness and the fear that
paralyzes me before an audience?"
Did you ever notice in looking from a train window that some horses feed near the track and never even pause
to look up at the thundering cars, while just ahead at the next railroad crossing a farmer's wife will be
nervously trying to quiet her scared horse as the train goes by?
How would you cure a horse that is afraid of cars--graze him in a back-woods lot where he would never see
steam-engines or automobiles, or drive or pasture him where he would frequently see the machines?
Apply horse-sense to ridding yourself of self-consciousness and fear: face an audience as frequently as you
can, and you will soon stop shying. You can never attain freedom from stage-fright by reading a treatise. A
book may give you excellent suggestions on how best to conduct yourself in the water, but sooner or later you
must get wet, perhaps even strangle and be "half scared to death." There are a great many "wetless" bathing
suits worn at the seashore, but no one ever learns to swim in them. To plunge is the only way.
Practise, practise, PRACTISE in speaking before an audience will tend to remove all fear of audiences, just as
practise in swimming will lead to confidence and facility in the water. You must learn to speak by speaking.
The Apostle Paul tells us that every man must work out his own salvation. All we can do here is to offer you
suggestions as to how best to prepare for your plunge. The real plunge no one can take for you. A doctor may
prescribe, but you must take the medicine.
Do not be disheartened if at first you suffer from stage-fright. Dan Patch was more susceptible to suffering
than a superannuated dray horse would be. It never hurts a fool to appear before an audience, for his capacity
is not a capacity for feeling. A blow that would kill a civilized man soon heals on a savage. The higher we go
in the scale of life, the greater is the capacity for suffering.
For one reason or another, some master-speakers never entirely overcome stage-fright, but it will pay you to
spare no pains to conquer it. Daniel Webster failed in his first appearance and had to take his seat without
finishing his speech because he was nervous. Gladstone was often troubled with self-consciousness in the
beginning of an address. Beecher was always perturbed before talking in public.
Blacksmiths sometimes twist a rope tight around the nose of a horse, and by thus inflicting a little pain they
distract his attention from the shoeing process. One way to get air out of a glass is to pour in water.
Be Absorbed by Your Subject