You are about to give the most important speech of your life but you’re a wreck: you’re sweating, your hands are trembling, and your mouth is drier than a ball of cotton. You remember a good public-speaking tip you once heard: picture the audience in their underwear. You try it, and the speech goes… actually, I have no idea how it goes. I have never tried that approach with public speaking. What I instead rely on in situations like those is my shamelessness.
Shamelessness is an underrated tool in our personal arsenal. It isn’t something you do, it’s how you respond to your and others’ actions. For me, it is mainly brushing off the embarrassment I inevitably incur from freely expressing myself.
I’ve found that a big part of shamelessness is the ability to laugh at yourself after you’ve done something that, well, deserves it (like me walking into a tree branch the other day while I wasn’t texting… I’m still not entirely sure how that happened). Once you make fun of yourself, the stage is set-no one else can bring you down because you’ve already done that. When people laugh at themselves, they become more relatable in the eyes of others. Many comedians are successful because they know how to leverage this concept. Things happen to us all the time, dumb things that we are embarrassed about. But when we hear people sharing their own embarrassments, we relate to them.
I think this is a major reason why we also tend to laugh at the sufferings of others: it is an inconspicuous way to mask our own. With the attention focused on someone else, we aren’t reminded of the things that we would otherwise be shameful of.
I should mention that shamelessness alone does not grant these powers. It takes confidence to laugh at yourself, do stand-up, or speak in public. But most of society already understands the benefits of confidence. What I don’t think society knows is the potential of shamelessness. Confidence and shamelessness work together to empower people to try things they’ve never done before. You could be confident and share an idea you think is good, but then if people react badly to it and you are prone to shame, you could lose that confidence and become scared to offer your ideas or suggestions. If, however, you are less shameful, you could take that bad idea in stride, recognize that not every idea you put forth will be perfect, and move on.
So after considering our original scenario, I don’t think the best way to get over the fear of public speaking is to imagine everyone else in their underwear; I think the best way is for you to be in your underwear. If you can keep going after that, there won’t be a thing you can’t do: you’ve transformed a terrifying atmosphere into a casual, one where you can speak freely without worrying about messing up… it’s really strange how badly I want to try this at some point in my life.
So recognize that not all of your ideas and actions will be considered normal. It is likely that you’ll do or say something stupid that made more sense in your head. But when this happens, laugh at yourself! Embrace shame, that natural human feeling, and transcend it. It may surprise you how far you can go.
Matt Mignogna is a freshman in the Schreyer Honors College at the Pennsylvania State University. He didn’t start writing until last year, when he found out that he was interested in analyzing leadership, innovation, ideas, and human behavior.
If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, please check out his blog at http://moderatelyunbiased.blogspot.com