What to reveal about yourself

Instead of introducing Sheldon, Leonard starts talking about unresolved issues with his motherWhile I was writing about The Pants Alternative (see previous post), it occurred to me that Sheldon’s speech was not the only one worthy of analysis. Leonard’s introduction throws up a huge issue we haven’t yet discussed on this blog and that is the question of what and how much to reveal about oneself in a speech or presentation.

Just before I address that, something else that strikes me about this episode of The Big Bang Theory is this: public speaking is a strange beast and it’s remarkably difficult to predict who’s going to hate it and who’s going to love it. Sheldon, for instance, whose self-esteem knows no bounds, is afraid of it – not because he might do it badly (that possibility doesn’t exist for Dr Cooper) but because he’s had a bad experience where he was trampled by a crowd. Despite his exceptional IQ, Sheldon is singularly lacking in emotional intelligence and often reacts like a child. If the audience stormed the platform the first time he attempted public speaking, the same will happen every time. This is Sheldon’s reasoning and, although it’s exaggerated in the show for comic effect, it’s actually a very, very common misconception. The redecision therapy I was talking about last time is designed specifically to challenge this type of belief and to encourage the adult client to realise that, just because something went horribly wrong when he/she was a child, it doesn’t mean it will always do so. If we approach things differently, bringing our adult faculties to bear, we will get a different result.

Leonard, on the other hand, we might have expected to feel shy about public speaking – but not a bit of it. I know these are fictional characters but it’s equally true in real life that it’s very hard to guess whether someone might like or loathe public speaking.

Anyway, back to the point about how much of oneself to reveal. I suspect Leonard, like a lot of people (whether they care to admit it or not), relishes the opportunity to speak from a podium because here is a captive audience. If someone is not generally listened to or taken much notice of in everyday life, public speaking can seem an attractive way to grab some attention. This is completely understandable but, if you feel this tug, I urge you to think about it and resist the temptation to say too much.

The danger for you, the speaker, in revealing personal information is firstly that the audience will in all likelihood not react in the way you want them to. They may be embarrassed and look away; they may not be interested. In public, even more than in private, talking about one’s issues and emotions is an enormous risk. Consider how you may feel the next morning after giving so much away.

From the audience’s point of view, it can be excruciating to sit through a speech about someone’s unresolved pain. As the speaker, you need to think hard about your motivation for putting your listeners through this kind of experience. If you can honestly say, hand on heart, it’s for their benefit, then perhaps you’re right to go ahead, but do give some time to serious appraisal before you plan to expose your vulnerability.

One last point to reflect on is whether the audience might feel manipulated by your making the issue personal. A friend was telling me the other day that she’d been at a charity function to raise money for victims of child-abuse. She was expecting to have her emotions played on to some extent, with ghastly stories of what children suffer, but she was affronted by the speaker who told lurid tales of her own childhood traumas as a prelude to suggesting everyone present dig deep into their pockets and give generously to the cause. I can understand why this speaker thought it was a good idea to illustrate her talk with personal experience but, as far as my friend was concerned, anyway, it backfired.

My advice in this area, as indicated above, is to keep constantly in mind as you’re preparing your talk the question, does this revelation benefit the audience?  Does it help them to understand more fully or is the purpose of saying it to manoeuvre your listeners into giving something back, either emotional or pecuniary? If in doubt, miss it out.

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About Georgie

Coach and consultant in effective communication - public speaking, interviews & pitches, training, lecturing, meetings, debates & discussions. Motivational speaker
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