Claremont Author Doesn’t Want You to Die; She Just Wants You to Give a Great Speech!

December 30, 2016
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Mary Fensholt Perera, the Claremont, Calif., author of The Francis Effect: The Real Reason You Hate Public Speaking and How to Get Over It

When asked to name the thing they fear most, people often put public speaking — not dying — at the top of their list.

Here’s how one insightful person rationalized this dead-over-dread choice:

“… I came up with three advantages that death has over speaking in front of a group of people. First of all, you are only going to die once, whereas, there is no limit to the number of times you can make a fool of yourself in front of an audience. Second, death is the best way I know to avoid speaking in front of a group. And last, but not least, after you die, you do not have to walk back to your seat.”

However, Mary Fensholt Perera, the Claremont, Calif., author of The Francis Effect: The Real Reason You Hate Public Speaking and How to Get Over It, doesn’t believe that public speaking has to hold such a death grip over its reluctant practitioners. Rather, she prescribes an antidote that will allow speakers to minimize, manage, and ultimately master the anxiety associated with pubic speaking.

Her course of action, perceptively and probingly delivered over 300 carefully crafted pages, comprises three sections: “Delivering Your Presentation,” “Preparing Your Presentation,” and “Delivering Your Presentation.” By addressing the “why” upfront, Mary lets you know that your glossophobia (fear of public speaking) is hardly abnormal. Indeed, she informs us that it is a conditioned primeval response so deeply embedded in our biology, physiology, and evolution that when we are thrust upon a stage — alone, exposed, vulnerable, outnumbered — we can’t tell the difference between facing an audience of guests and a pack of hyenas or saber-toothed tigers. In response, we risk triggering an uncontrollable downward spiral, marked by a racing heart, sweaty palms, quivering knees, and a panicky mind that flips into fight-or-flight mode.

Recognize Your Wolf

Importantly, Mary never talks about slaying the “wolf” that public speaking represents and is always lurking at our doorstep and stalking our consciousness. Instead, she recommends learning to live and cope with it, rather than denying its existence. It’s through this peaceful coexistence, the author believes, that we can begin to increase our confidence and comfort and ultimately find the real enjoyment of public speaking.

Once Mary convinces you that coexisting with your wolf can actually energize your speaking engagements, she sets off to help you build your content and presentation skills. Here’s where the book turns into a refreshing and comprehensive exercise on everything you should have learned in English class. Among them are: organizing and structuring your speech, using words correctly, working in useful analogies and metaphors, eliminating clichés and, redundancies, purging the passive voice, and exchanging negative responses with positive ones (Instead of saying, “I can’t comment on that situation,” say, “Here’s what I can tell you about the situation.”). Her tools, tips, and techniques come with lots of helpful examples.

With the same nurturing resolve, she offers fashion advice and guidelines on how to use a variety of nonverbal skills, such as eye contact, pace and posture, to build further rapport and resonance with audiences.

“Pauses are punctuation in speech,” she writes. “Pauses are commas, periods, colons, and semicolons. They are the indentations at the beginning of new paragraphs and the white space at the end of a chapter. We wouldn’t think of writing a memo, much less a story, without punctuation.”

Another aspect of The Francis Effect that makes reading it fun and time well spent is Mary’s liberal and illustrative use of quotes to summarize her themes, including the following by the famous jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., to illustrate the importance of pausing and pacing in producing natural and comfortable speakers: “Talking is like playing on the harp; there is much in laying the hand on the strings to stop their vibrations as in twanging them to bring out their music.” In so many words, Mary doesn’t want speakers to generate noise, she wants you to create powerful, persuasive, and natural speech.

Another section of the book I found extremely helpful were her techniques for avoiding awkward silences (the engage-by-stage four-stage questioning model). In particular, I liked the suggestion of polling the audience with a “show-of-hands question” to increase group participation and engagement. “No one person has been singled out, but the show of hands creates a sense of community,” Mary explains.

Something Isn’t Right Here

But my absolute favorite part of the book was the chapter titled, “Something Isn’t Right Here: Self-Defense for Trick and Hostile Questions.” Out of her respect for the reader and would-be presenter, she covers the gamut of fallacious arguments that speakers often have to confront during or at the end of their presentations. In the post-truth world we now find ourselves in, she exposes the greatest offenders and gives us confidence-boosting defenses for fending off the red herrings, false analogies, straw man inventions, ad hominem attacks, and slew of other flawed arguments that speakers will inevitably face. I recommend reading the chapter two or three times so when you’re faced with these kinds of bogus arguments, you’ll be able to quickly expose their flaws and answer them with greater clarity and conviction.

Finally, Mary offers a rich, full-throated appendix of resources that will well serve readers who want to dive deeper into mastering their public speaking craft.

At any rate, Mary’s heroic efforts should result in fewer people selecting public speaking as a fate worse than death!

Mary is working on a new version of her book, but if you already have a speech or presentation on your 2017 calendar, I wouldn’t wait for the new one to come out. You can pick up the original on Amazon. Why dread the event, when, with Mary’s help, you can deliver a vocal masterpiece!

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