Do I Sound Stupid?

Uncategorized Mar 21, 2024

I have bad news...

Most audiences aren't going to let you know if you've lost them.

  • Even if at the beginning of your presentation you say, "Please feel free to interrupt me when you have questions." 
  • Even if midway through your presentation you ask, "Is that all clear? Anyone have any questions?"
  • Even if at the end of your presentation you say, "Now let's open things up to Q&A. Who has questions?"

It doesn't matter how many opportunities you give folks to get back on the path--most people simply won't let you know they're lost.

It breaks my heart, but it's the truth. Audience members are often reluctant to admit when they don't understand what a presenter is saying because they're afraid of looking stupid

And the truly wild thing? Often the reason the audience is confused is because the presenter is afraid of the very same thing.  

I've seen so many presenters completely lose their audience because they were so concerned with "sounding like an expert" that they spoke exclusively in industry jargon that their audience didn't understand.

Let me use myself as an example.

Let's say I was having an insecure day and reeeeally wanted the audience to appreciate that I have a fancy BFA in drama.

I might introduce myself like this: “Hi, I’m a public speaking coach. I help non-thespians utilize dramaturgy in order to evoke catharsis and the impulse to act.”

This introduction simply screams “I got a BFA in theatre from NYU! Can’t you tell?!”

Unfortunately, it communicates little else.

Here’s what happens when I translate that sentence from jargon to English:
“Hi, I’m a public speaking coach. I help professionals use storytelling to move an audience to action.”

Maybe I won't feel as "expert" saying this version, but the upside is this: 

The audience will actually understand what the heck I do. 

And here's the moral of the story:

Never prioritize "sounding smart" in a presentation if the trade-off is that your audience feels stupid.  

That's a bargain where everyone loses. 

Alright...Any questions? ;) 

Photograph of Sara Glancy on stairs
Headshot by Jessica Osber.

Sara Glancy is an NYC-based actor and public speaking coach and the founder of Speak Masterfully, a service that helps professionals take the stage with less fear and more fun! 

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