So here’s an interesting question for you: could you drive your car if it didn’t have any mirrors. I’m thinking that the answer would be yes, but boy-o-boy would we all be nervous as we first backed up, and then headed off down the road. We’d have no idea what was behind us or what might be passing us on either side. Driving would turn into a bit of a nightmare. Now we all do have mirrors on our cars and that’s a good thing. However, it turns out that those mirrors are not perfect – we can still have blind spots where things (cars, people, bikes, etc.) can exist and we can’t see them. This can be a big deal. Is it possible that when we are giving a speech we may also have blind spots that we don’t know about?
The Blind Spots That We Have
It turns out that there is a bit of a problem that we all have when we are giving a speech – we can’t see ourselves. In fact, it gets a little worse for us. We really don’t know what we don’t know. We may or may not have a blind spot, but since we can’t tell if they are there, we don’t have any way to deal with them. We use mirrors to shrink our blind spots when we are driving. In the office, a lot of firms use an evaluation method called 360-degree review to get a complete picture of someone’s performance. What we need as speakers are ways that we can see what can’t be seen.
So here’s something that can happen to any speaker. We take the stage to deliver a speech since we understand the importance of public speaking we think that it goes well. We believe that our audience saw us as being a bold presenter. However, it turns out that they really saw us as coming across as being arrogant. Or perhaps we find ourselves in a situation where we need to get creative and improvise. We’re pleased with how well we pulled this off. However, it turns out that our audience now views us as being unprepared. What is going on here is that we’re struggling with a blind spot. Specifically, perceptions are in the eyes of our audience and they often don’t end up matching how we view our presentation going over. Just to make things a little bit worse, more often than not we may not even realize that there is a disparity in how we see our presentation and how our audience sees it.
Another blind spot that a lot of speakers have is when the audience’s perception of us does not match our intention. When we stand before an audience, we are hoping that our words will end up having an impact on them. We tend to judge the impact that we are going to have based on our intentions – what do we want to have happen? However, all too often our intentions may turn out to be very different from how other perceive us. The big question is how do you come across to your audience? The best way to find out how an audience views us is to ask them for feedback. However, as speakers we need to make sure that we are ready to receive this feedback. It may be quite jarring especially if our audience is not seeing us the way that we think that they should be.
Solving The Blind Spot Problem
So we have blind spots when we talk. What’s a speaker to do about this? If we can all agree that we can’t see our blind spots, then we are going to need some help in finding out what they are. We need members of our audience to provide us with the feedback that we need. How are we coming across to the audience? What are we not being able to see for ourselves? The goal of getting this kind of feedback is to provide you with an opportunity to grow as you harmonize your projection of yourself onto your audience with how they are seeing you. The goal is to get your intentions to match your results.
One of the most common blind spots that all speakers have is our faces. We simply can’t see ourselves while we are speaking so we have no way of knowing how our face looks. However, our audience spends the entire speech studying our face and we are sending them a message. Our facial expressions may be sending our audience unintended signals that we are not aware of. Our audience will be watching our face and they will be interpreting our facial expressions. The message of our speech may be filled with affection and joy, but if we are frowning or have a look of disdain on our face then our audience will end up being confused about what message we are trying to communicate.
As speakers we need to be careful when we go looking for feedback on our speaking blind spots. The information that we’ll be getting will be very valuable, but at the same time it may end up being quite jarring. We don’t necessarily see ourselves the way that our audience is seeing us and when we realize that we’re going to have to find ways to deal with it. The feedback that we are given will need to be calibrated to what we are going to be able to deal with. A good suggestion is to not seek out feedback immediately after we get done giving a speech. Emotionally we are not ready for any sort of critical feedback at this point in time. Instead, let some time pass before you ask for the feedback that may reveal your blind spots.
What All Of This Means For You
As public speakers, hopefully the one thing that all of us are always working towards is becoming better so that we can share the benefits of public speaking. This giving speeches stuff is hard to do well and so we’d like to keep becoming better and better at it. However, it turns out that becoming better can be a very difficult thing to do. The reason that it’s so hard to do is because every speaker suffers from what are called “blind spots”. We can’t see ourselves giving a speech and so we don’t fully understand how our audience is viewing us. We need to find a way to understand how they are seeing us.
Blind spots can show up in a lot of different ways. We can deliver a speech and think that we did a great job only to discover that we were not able to connect with our audience. We might give a speech with the best of intents, but it turns out that our audience’s perception of us was all off. In order to solve our blind spot problem, we need to get members of our audience to provide us with honest feedback on how we did. We always need to keep in mind that our face may be causing us problems. If our expressions don’t line up with what we are saying, then our audience is going to be left feeling confused. However, we also need to keep in mind that getting this type of feedback can be somewhat jarring. We need to make sure that we take the time to make sure that we are prepared to both hear it and then to take action based on it.
In order to become better public speakers we need to take the time to find out how our audience views both us and our speech. However, all of us suffer from blind spots that can make this very difficult to do. If we take the time to work with others and prepare ourselves to receive the feedback that they can provide us with, then we can overcome our blind spots and see ourselves as others see us. Once we can do this, then we can truly start to become better public speakers.
Question For You: When do you think would be the best time to get feedback on how your next speech went?
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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!