A public speaking lesson from an 8-month-old

There’s a difference between being passionate about your material and becoming so enamored of it that you forget who your audience is.


One of my favorite treats is to read a delightful children’s book to my 8-month-old son called “Little Blue Truck.” The book, about a little blue truck that makes friends with farm animals who help it get unstuck from a muddy patch in a country road, teaches a great lesson about forming friendships. Part of what makes the book so fun to read is that it allows me to perform animal sounds—Mooooo! Baaahhh! Cluck! I get rather engaged in my performances, giving dramatic readings intended to earn an occasional smile from my little boy. A few nights ago, I had barely made it to the middle of the book before my son started squirming out of my arms. I was determined to make it through the book, so I amped up my performance to regain his attention. He continued to squirm, getting increasingly agitated, and then I finally had an (admittedly obvious) insight: “Wait! I’m not the audience. He is!” I had become so enamored of reading the book to my son that I had forgotten who the audience for the activity was. That’s a lesson many presenters can learn from. Too often, they’re so enamored of something they’re talking about—a detailed and barely related point, a “you-had-to-be-there story,” or a personal pet project—that they forget who their real audience is and what they care about.

So, remember your audience. Trim your presentations of what behavior change specialist Jerry Sternin dubbed “TBUs”—”true but useless” facts. If you find yourself beginning to ramble, activate a voice in the back of your mind that pointedly asks, “Is this directly related to my main point?” If not, remind yourself of the lesson I relearned while reading to my son: “Wait! I’m not the audience. They are!” Brad Phillips is author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared. (Image via)

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