That Podium Is REALLY An X-Ray Machine!

Posted by Dave

Ursuline Academy of Dallas is a college preparatory school for young women at which Speech is a required subject. For the past 4 of their 100+ year history, I’ve taught a summer school Speech class there. Most of my students – if given a choice – would be happily sleeping late or earning some summer cash, rather than hanging with Mr. Tanner (and – for several of them – I’m sure that “hanging” feels like an apt metaphor.) They are draftees, not volunteers. So this year, I decided to let them in on a little secret which has a direct application for them, and which could have implications for you, the next time you are called upon to speak to a group or are listening to another speaker.

You see, a lot of folks think that a podium is an object designed to hold our speeches or notes. But what it really is, is an X-ray machine that allows the audience to look straight into a speaker’s soul.

I’m not kidding, and I don’t believe I am exaggerating. Whether the speaker is delivering a wedding toast or a keynote address, their words almost always tell us more about themselves than the topic at hand. For instance, we learn fairly quickly whether they feel passionately about their subject, or if they have taken the time and effort to craft memorable phrases.

For those who are especially glib or who have a wealth of speaking experience which lends a patina to their oratory, it may take a series of such “snapshots” to show their true selves. (But hey! – we often need multiple X-rays, as well.) Even so – as this year’s presidential candidates have proved, again and again – ultimately, the podium eventually reveals all.

This is why – from Day 1 – I always encourage my students to speak from their hearts, to write-edit-and re-write for clarity and conversational tone, and to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse (as in “practice makes perfect.”) Because I am primarily dealing with novice speakers, such actions also help minimize Performance Anxiety, better known as Stage Fright.

A standard cure for Stage Fright used to be for the speaker to picture his listeners naked. (It was thought to make audiences less intimidating to nervous speakers.) But really, it’s the speakers themselves who bare all. And that’s the “secret” truth about the podium that I’ve shared with my class.

(From here on in, I’d better have nothing to hide. Someone will be looking right through me!)


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