Demand Dignity in Public Speaking Training

Mandy*, a bright, attractive professional woman, had a fear of speaking in front of groups. Recognizing that her feelings of vulnerability and self-consciousness were limiting her potential, she showed up for a presentation skills class filled with trepidation. In the class, the students spent the morning listening to the instructor explain the rules of public speaking. That afternoon, they gave their presentations to the group.

After nervously waiting through five other talks, Mandy took her place at the front of the room-her heart pounding and hands shaking. She plowed through her 10-minute presentation with her mind in an out-of-body blur. When she finished, Mandy obeyed the instructor's direction to remain front-and-center to receive her feedback. Comments started with a few "That's a good color on you" and "You had good eye contact" platitudes, but then the real critique began. She used way too many "ums." She shifted her weight too much. Her hair was in her eyes. Her voice was too soft. Most of all, her excessive gestures simply had to be brought under control! Luckily, the instructor had a gesture-reduction plan. He playfully took a piece of rope from a cardboard box, used it to bind Mandy's hands behind her back, and had her give the entire presentation over again.

Did this experience help Mandy overcome her feelings of vulnerability and self-consciousness? Of course not. She shuffled home feeling humiliated and victimized. Rather than compassionately working with Mandy as the vulnerable, dignified, gifted human being she is, the instructor treated her like a horse whose spirit and wild habits had to be broken with ropes. Literally.

Previous Training As A Source of Fear

In my 15 years of coaching public speaking, I've worked with hundreds of anxiety-ridden speakers. Surprisingly, they often referred to previous speaking training as a source of their fear. They've been badgered, nit-picked, and intimidated-all stemming from a well-intentioned belief that if you fix the mechanics, confidence will follow.

For many people, this approach is, at the very least, ineffective-and it can damage one's sense of dignity. If you see the audience as the enemy, mastering the art of the upward-hand-sweep-with-the-dramatic-flourish will not make those faces any less threatening. Even worse, this mechanical approach can be devastating if you feel insecure to begin with, then walk away with an even longer list of deficiencies to correct.

Of course, there's value in noticing distracting habits and getting them under control. If you're already comfortable in the spotlight, great; go ahead and fine-tune the mechanics. But if you're like Mandy and anxiety is your primary issue (and believe me, you're not alone), a mechanical approach may do more harm than good.

What You Need from Training

So what do you need, if not the mechanics? Here are four things you'd be wise to demand from your training session:

1. Work on the cause of your discomfort, not merely the symptoms.

Most people say that one-on-one or in a small group, they're comfortable with speaking; they only feel awkward when speaking to a large group. If that's the case, there's good news: You don't have to work on your speaking; you have to work on getting comfortable being the center of attention. It may not seem like a significant shift but it is. Speakers tend to work only on what they're putting out to the audience (content, appearance, visual aids, voice). Often, the real work is learning to let in what's coming from audience members, namely their attention.

2. Demand a dignified, healthy process, not just a good outcome.

In Mandy's case, even without ropes, she would probably gesture less the next time she spoke, but is that really success? Though the end result of her training was fewer gestures, the teacher cut a swath of emotional destruction on the way. Desired ends don't justify humiliating means. Always demand to be treated with respect as you work to develop your speaking skills.

3. Insist on privacy regarding your video.

A common tool in presentation skills training is video, but your video is no one's business but yours. I have seen accomplished, respected professionals shrink in horror as their video was shown to and critiqued by the entire class. All learning value was lost because they were too mortified by the public display to learn anything. Besides, it's a waste of time. The class just saw you present the real thing. Why make them watch you twice? In my workshops, students go to the fun and funky "Learning Lounge" where they have a private video monitor with earphones, snacks, a comfortable chair, cozy quilts, and a soothing foot massager. The lighthearted atmosphere takes the sting out of self-awareness so students can concentrate on learning. Nothing good comes from public humiliation, so if you're not comfortable with a public video viewing, stand up for your right to privacy.

4. Feel free to explore your gifts.

"Stay inside the lines." Remember that one? You got a new box of crayons and wanted to go crazy with them, but a teacher or parent squashed your creativity by making you color inside pre-existing lines. The same happens in speaking. Max, a former student of mine, had always been told to follow the rules as a speaker, so he concentrated on his voice, his stance, his visual aids, etc. When given permission to forget the rules and speak from his heart, a delightful dry sense of humor emerged that made him much more likeable and, therefore, more persuasive. He incorporated this gift into a presentation that was already effective in the traditional sense, but now had a wonderful new dimension that would have been missed had he not played "outside the lines."

Mechanics have their place, but you may need to go beyond nit-picking mechanics. You're a unique human being with gifts, talents, stories, fears, dreams, and heart. Don't settle for anything less than a dignified, compassionate approach.

Even horses deserve that.

* Name has been changed to protect privacy.

(c) 2002, Upside Down Speaking

About The Author

Melissa Lewis turns traditional thinking about public speaking upside down to give people more comfort, confidence, and charisma in front of groups. She does this through keynotes, workshops, coaching and innovative virtual learning programs. She is a former comic actress, a certified facilitator of SPEAKING CIRCLES, president-elect of the National Speakers Association Kansas City Chapter, and author of the soon-to-be-released book, Upside Down Speaking. For more information, call (913) 341-1241, email or visit

The Right To Die With Dignity - Who Be Judge?

I would like to think as my own life creeps inexorably toward the deep end of its length, that I may have some say in how I choose to spend my final days on Earth. There is a startling move in Australia. of some of our dear old Grannies and Grandpas, opting to take their fate into their own hands when it comes to the end of their life as they know it. That is by way of choosing to end their life in a peaceful manner when they deem themselves ready to do so.

At first one might be shocked to learn just how many healthy of mind and body elderly people are thinking about choosing this option, when it suits them to finish their life with dignity, with all their mental faculties in tact and without pain or loss of dignity. We all know how distressing it is to witness a loved one deteriorate into dementia, or for someone who has suffered a stroke, to be so physically affected that they no longer have any quality of life. The loss of dignity and total lack of quality for some old people in our nursing homes is heart wrenching. It seems after a full, rich, long life, a person ought to have the right to choose when the time to go has come and have a chance to celebrate their life before they are gone, or have lost the ability to do so. After all we do so for our beloved pets so they will not suffer. We let them go to sleep without pain, trauma and in peace.

Many old people take their own lives in the end and some in dreadfully violent or unpleasant ways, simply because the means to do so in a peaceful way was not available to them. Should we make the means available to them? This is the question that riddles this dilemma? How do we advocate a peaceful "passing"? We cannot! It is against all our human beliefs in the preservation of life at all cost, but do we really think about or measure that cost to the individual in terms of the pain they may be suffering or worse their loss of dignity?

On the odd occasion, my own now elderly mother has said that she would avoid having to go to a nursing home at any cost and would prefer to just walk into the ocean and allow herself to drift out to sea, rather than feel like a burden on the rest of the family, or the system. I know that she will not do this A) because she is a devout Catholic and B) It takes a great deal of courage to do such a thing. Not that that courage is not evident within her, but her frailty now dictates her thinking in every way. Oddly enough this was her thinking a long time before she became frail and was still of sound health. Fear rules us all in the end, but it has to say something drastic about our society as a whole to think that old people are feeling this way. It isn't difficult to understand the reasoning behind it and in many ways it makes a lot of sense, in practical terms. It is our emotions and basic humanity that rule our reaction to this.

Were we a society that looked after its elderly in our family homes and took care of our loved ones in a more caring and family based environment, would they feel differently? It is a pity that we have the mind set developing amongst our elderly. Whilst this may only be a very small minority of the aged population, this number will be increasing rapidly over the next decade or two, as the "Baby Boomers" Or Post War progeny begin to enter the winter of their lives. Our Aged Care Nursing facilities need to be radically overhauled and a more humane and quality of care approach taken to the care of our precious loved ones. Having known quite few aged care nurses, it is alarming to hear so many opting to leave the profession, because they can no longer tolerate the conditions or lack of quality care practices taking place in some Nursing Homes, not to mention the lack of financial incentive in the form of decent wages, but also the stress of working in understaffed and overworked stations. It is a very real and urgent social problem that needs addressing.

Our own time will come sooner than we would like to think as well. What end would you have yourself face? Will we be able to age gracefully and comfortably in a peaceful and caring environment. The idea that some people deem it necessary to take their own lives in the end is a bitter indictment on our society as a whole. Families need to respond to these needs and fears of the elderly and it is really up to us to change the way they view the end of life. By offering our love and support for that time in their lives and reassuring them that they will be taken care of.

Western Society has become so "throw away" in its mentality, that even human life when it is deemed of no further use is discarded or closeted away and left to the professionals to deal with. This abhorrent attitude needs to be addressed and we all need to lobby for better conditions, other wise we face an even greater challenge ourselves when our turn comes. Mandatory changes need to be made to our aged care nursing programs and our own selfish desires to be unencumbered by the infirm and frail. Privately owned institutions have too much autonomy. The problem of aged people actively preparing to do these things is just as topical and ethical a topic as abortion, youth suicide, genetic engineering, stem cell research or any other right to life issue. But who is the person to judge or deem any individual at the end of life, fit to make such a decision or not?

A Name is a Title of Dignity

It has happened to all of us. You receive an e-mail or a postal letter and you recognize the name of the sender. Eagerly the envelope is opened and then - yes, there is a greeting such as "Dear" and a blank. There may also be the general "Greetings" on the first line. It is then that you realize that this person or company does not know who you are and they did not take the trouble to at least give you a name.

To most people, their name is their signature in life. It is who they are, what they believe in, as well as their life accomplishments all wrapped up in this neat package of a name. Some individuals just consider a name a legality but do not believe it is who they are or would like you to think they are. In either case, there is a bit of pride when your name is right there in the salutation of any piece of correspondence.

The fate of the writer ever having his note read by the receiver is in the hands of whether the person holding it sees a generalization or horror of horrors - a bad copy made from a master copy. That circular file we all have next to our desks fills up quickly with paper that probably was labored over by someone who truly wanted to get their message across. However, in the nitty gritty of business dealings, personalization has a certain magic about it. It is your name right there staring back at you and instantly, that person or company has credibility in your mind's eye. They took the time to "know" you figurtively. They may never have actually met you, and maybe never will, but to them you were an individual with potential, or quality. You have a name, they took the time to find it, and then, yes, they used it when they addressed you. There is respect in someone using your name. In other words, you are not a nameless one in a bin of thousands. You have a name and whether you would like to change it at some point, it is your name.

It might be such a small gesture but it does make its voice heard. Any correspondence on the internet that identifies you with only your e-mail address is another downer. They have no idea who you are - you are on some type of list and therefore you received this message. While there is hope on the sender side that you will read the message, most people use that dreaded delete button because this is mass mailing and no one truly enjoys being part of a "mass." Individuality is making a person a person in the eyes of the business world. This named individual is not just a hoped for quick sale or subscriber. They are a living, breathing body that wants to know that the sender of anything either knows them or at least would like to get to know them. Maybe this is impossible in huge volumes of mailings, but then the waste of paper or images on a computer will mostly never reach the point that the sender had hoped for.

The old, old adage of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a business mantra that should be on everyone's desk or desktop. In other words, you know fhe feeling of being one of millions in someone's attempt to benefit from a relationship with you, or you could be the one sale that they would like to seal, the one business venture that the sender would like you to be part of. Which one do you respond to - then believe that the receiver of your correspondence will mostly likely feel the same. In business it is many times next to impossible to personally know everyone you contact, but on the receiving end, they don't want to even consider this.

If you make the effort to attract someone's attention by calling them by their personal name, you will have crossed that first part of the journey of making them a customer/ client. Also, if you went through the postal service, you saved a tree or the price of a stamp. Both very good in your favor. If you corresponded over the internet, then you were not subjected to that delete button and someone's finger was not unduly made to work harder than it should. Definitely this is a win-win situation or a no-brainer, depending on your language choices. ©Arleen M. Kaptur June, 2007

Arleen M. Kaptur has written many books and articles on everyday living and finding peace and joy in all we do.

My Grandfather's Mail: On the Art of Dignity

A promotional circular arrived in the mail today. It's addressed: "Informed Consumer."
Now I have to wonder... if they really think I'm informed, then why are they still sending me mail? Logically, I think they should be sending this stuff to the uninformed consumers. I don't suppose that would look good on the envelope though.
If I'm going to receive junk mail, I prefer the kind that says "Current Resident." At least it's honest in its anonymity. "Current Resident" says "Look, we don't know you. This harassment isn't personal. We're bombarding everyone." In the electronic age, when even identity is for sale, anonymity is a rare thing. It makes me realize how much the world has changed since my grandfather's generation.
When my grandfather lived with us--this is a while back now, somewhere circa 1980--one of his habits that I found to be rather eccentric was his daily routine of answering all his mail personally. Even the junk mail.
Letters from Sears would receive a polite, hand-written note in return. "Dear Sirs: Thank you for your kind offer dated Wednesday, April 24. Fortunately, our dishwasher is in excellent condition and is serving our needs quite adequately. However, should we find ourselves in need of such an appliance in the future, we will be sure to consider your fine products."
Needless to say, my grandfather was on every mailing list in the country. He passed away over twenty years ago, and mail still shows up for him from time to time at the family household.
I like to think of these straggling missives as more personal, somehow, than the junk mail I get myself. I think of some hopeful soul somewhere wondering why they never hear from him anymore, sending out one more letter or catalog on the off chance that they might be able to spark up that old dialog again.
There was a certain politeness in my grandfather's day that we have lost utterly as a country. Mail was really intended for people back then. It wasn't just scatter shot across the suburban bow.
Of course a lot of other things have changed too, and many of them for the better. I love my computer. I love my cell phone. I love the Civil Rights Act of 1965. But I don't like the fact that businesses have stopped worrying about annoying people. What's the world coming to when we stop being concerned about each other?
Believe it or not, I wish I had the time to answer all my own junk mail personally. I'd still know it was junk mail, but at least I'd have the luxury of behaving otherwise. In the end, my grandfather had it right. The world may have become anonymous around him, but he never gave in to it. To his dying day, he still treated every soul with dignity.
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Dignity. When you read that word. What exactly does it mean to you? Here. Read it again. D-i-g -n-i-t-y.
As of late, I’ve begun to ask myself is dignity an attribute each of us are born with? More importantly, is dignity something that can be taken away from us? You know. Like when a wicked woman emasculates, or weakens her man. Can dignity be taken away in that same manner?
Before I give you my take on the above, let’s first take a gander at the definition of dignity, shall we? Dignity: 1: the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed. 2 a: a high rank, office, or position. b: a legal title of nobility or honor.
I’ll let you guys mull over the above definition while I further the purpose for this script by telling you another one.
Let’s face it. Relationships are difficult. I surmise, that’s the reason why as elder marrieds share their extended years of matrimony, most people are in awe. When you hear there are people in the world who’ve remained married for 20, 30, or 50-years or more, we are nothing less than surprised.
I’ve recently been enlightened to the fact that people by default, are difficult. Men are difficult. Women are difficult. Hell, children are difficult! It’s a complex situation to attempt to mesh a woman with a man, a woman with a woman or a man with a man, even. Sharing and maintaining a bond is hard work. So, tell me. What’s the secret? Is there a secret to blissful unions?
Take the man who finds out that his woman had over fifty lovers when she admitted telling him she had only ten. Is the man’s dignity being challenged because his ego is crushed as a result of finding out his woman is as savvy and maybe even more experienced a lover than he? What about the woman who is involved with a man who refuses to view her in a respectful light overall as a decent individual? He generalizes his opinion by admitting to her that he believes all women to be whores and cannot be trusted. How’s she supposed to ingest that comment? Is the woman’s dignity being challenged or taken away by her guy’s unrealistic view points relative to women?
I believe no one can take away or tamper with a person’s self respect or dignity unless you give them power to do so. Dignity flows from within. Kinda like self-esteem.
In contrast, I also believe a person can give away their dignity by involving themselves or contributing to negative or disrespectful circumstances. I’ll explain:
If a man continues to associate and sexually involve himself in a sexual liaison with women who are married or living with another man, I believe he is sacrificing his dignity in doing so. If a woman continues a relationship with her best friend’s fiancĂ© then she is sacrificing her dignity and self-respect. If you have to lie to a woman in order to get her between the sheets, then you are sacrificing your own dignity. If a woman has sex with a man in order to get him to pay her utility bill, then her dignity is being challenged or forfeited.
I believe Dignity is how much you allow yourself to be disrespected or purposely made to feel small at the hands of another. (Purposely being the operative word).
Everyone has a tolerance level of how much crap they’ll endure from another. I now I have my level. But isn’t that when dignity should come into play? When someone is forcing you to do or put up with that which otherwise you normally would not blink an eye at? Your actions defending your dignity should dictate how much those challenging your self-respect in the first place’ll respect you later.
It’s an unfortunate for me that I remain in situations and relationship a lot longer than I should at times, becoming a ‘hanger-oner.” I surmise I do this so when and if I must make a decision to leave, then there is no reason for me to second-guess that action. So if my mate says or does something that normally would make me want to scram, I ignore my natural instincts to leave and remain in the relationship to see how things will work out once the smoke clears. Hey, that works for me; it might not be the move for you.
I must admit, sometimes I get “hot headed,” as most do at one time or another. That’s when I make hasty decisions. Being inundated with anger then I have to rescind a word or an action later with my tail between my legs. (I hate doing that, don’t you?). Also, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. At least once anyway.
Dignity. So tell me? When you read that word. What exactly does it mean to you? Here. Read it again. D-I-G-N-I-T-Y. What’s your interpretation of it? I’d like to know.
(c) 2006 by C. V. Harris. All rights reserved.
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