The Seven Deadly Sins of Public Speaking (and how to avoid them) #7

Sin #7 Self-inflicted boredom

If many of the previous “sins” can be fixed through rehearsal and preparation, sin #7 is one that needs a very different approach. Sad to say, there are times when speakers walk behind the podium or pulpit and know, even before they start, that this will not be the kind of talk that fires the imagination. They are like one of my university lecturers who once started a class with the words “today’s lecture will be rather dry but we can get through it.” Or they are like the person who once told me “not everything you need to learn is interesting.”

No doubt, there are some subjects that are more amenable to an exciting, attractive presentation than others. But then, different people will give you different lists of which subjects are easy to present in a lively way and which aren’t. There are some people who love making accounting and finance engaging and others who really shine in theology. Some speakers jump at the chance of teaching on cognitive linguistics, others shine when given the opportunity to talk on actuarial maths.

After wondering why few people could agree on which subjects were easy and which weren’t, I came to the conclusion that it isn’t the subject itself that decides the excitement level of the presenter but the presenter’s attitude to it! For speakers, boredom is always self-inflicted.

Hence why boredom is listed as one of the sins. Most of the other sins are about taking the time to rehearse, prepare and do recon on where you will be speaking, what you will be saying and who will be listening. This sin is about examining yourself. It’s about being humble enough to recognise your attitude to the subject matter. It might even mean turning down some speaking opportunities, if you have that option. Noone should have my attitude to postmodernism or deconstructionism inflicted on them. So, if someone asks me to speak on those subjects, I will respectfully decline, wherever possible.

For many other subjects, I am a bit more ambivalent. I am not the most excited person in the world about translation (interpreting is another matter entirely) but I can find enough interest and passion to persuade people why it is a great career choice for the detail-oriented. Here I need to work on my attitude and focus as much on that as on the content itself. I have to choose to concentrate on the areas of translation that I do find interesting and spend less time on those areas where I find myself nodding off.

This kind of technique might work for those times when you have to speak on a subject that isn’t your strong suit. If your boss wants you to present the accounts and you find figures a chore, either try to find someone better or, if you are really trapped, go find someone who gets excited about accounts and let their enthusiasm rub off on you. Find those parts that you do find interesting and major on them as far as you can. Learn what the story is behind the numbers and speak on that.

There really is no excuse for starting your talks with a boredom warning. Even if you don’t find something exciting in itself, you should be able to find joy in where it will take you and what you can do with it. It’s that passion, that excitement that makes people sit up in their seats and take notice. In a world where so many talks are delivered because they have to be done, the talk that sounds like the speaker wants to do it shines out like a beacon. Better yet, those talks are much more fun to listen to and much more likely to lead to people learning something.



About Jonathan Downie

I am a conference interpreter, public speaking coach, preacher and researcher.
This entry was posted in Delivery, Preaching, Public Speaking. Bookmark the permalink.

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