So you’re about to take the stage to give a speech and you start feeling a little strange. Your stomach feels like it’s tied up in knots, your heart is racing and you have a warm and tightening feeling in your upper body. This is a normal feeling that even experienced speakers feel from time to time. So how do you deal with it? How about imagining your audience in their underwear?
I’m not sure where this idea initially came from, but it was made popular in an episode of the Brady Bunch called “The Driver’s Seat” which originally aired on January 11th, 1974. In this episode Jan, the middle girl, is nervous about giving a speech as part of a debating contest. Her family gives her the advice of imagining her audience in their underwear and that seems to work for her. But does it really work?
I get asked about this in nearly every public speaking class I teach. My feeling is that it can actually make you more uncomfortable because it distracts you from important things like remembering your speech. Not to mention that it can have some embarrassing side effects depending on your state of mind and who is in your audience.
Keep in mind that this advice may have been helpful at the time the episode aired where underwear was more functional than fashionable. In this post Victoria’s Secret era where underwear has evolved into a symbol of sexuality, imagining that attractive person in the front row in their skivvies can backfire on you. Giving this advice to today’s high school students, many of which already spend most of their day imagining their classmates in their under garments (which isn’t difficult given the way they dress), will certainly make things worse for them.
There are some variations on this that take the sensuality out of the equation such as visualizing your audience in funny t-shirts or imagining them with funny colored hair. These variations go back to initial intent of the advice – making the audience look funny so you’re less nervous. Even if you’re very imaginative, your brain still has to work pretty hard for you to trick yourself into believing that your audience is in that humorous altered state. So again, you’re further taxing your brain during a stressful situation and making it do something other than focus on your speech.
A better use of that brain power is to search around the audience for friendly faces to focus on. That will often help you the most while you’re on stage. Although the best thing to do is practice your speech ahead of time so you feel comfortable with it. When you get up to talk, you might still feel that nervousness initially, but it’ll be short-lived once you get into your groove.
If you are into visualizing, try to imagine your audience reacting positively to your speech. Running that image through your head a few times before you begin your speech will help ease your nerves in a non-distracting way. But remember, the best way to feel more comfortable with your audience is to first feel more comfortable with yourself.Share