Speak to One Person at a Time
You can only speak to one person at a time.
People — even gifted, successful, smart people — freak out when they speak to lots of people. They’re perfectly happy talking to one or two or three, or maybe even up to 10 people around a table or at a meeting. They may be okay speaking to 20 or 30 people. But stand them in front of 100, 200, or 1000 people, and their knees shake, their courage deserts them, and their minds turn to mush.
It’s more accurate to say that we freak ourselves out when we speak to lots of people. We think that speaking to 1000 people is quantitatively scarier than speaking to 10 people. And it’s that thought that freaks us out. The only practical difference between speaking to 10 people and speaking to 1000 is delivery: we have to speak louder (even when we’re micked) and bigger (even when we’re being videoed) while addressing larger audiences. That’s it. And there’s really no difference between speaking to 10 people and speaking to 1 person.
So here’s what to do. No matter how many people are listening to you, speak to just one person at a time.
Look one person in the eye. (You can’t look more than one person in the eye at the same time anyway.) Speak to that person. Just to that person. Don’t time yourself. (Speech coaches will tell you to hold eye contact for 5 to 7 seconds, give or take 2 seconds. Disregard them. You shouldn’t be counting to yourself as you’re talking.) Keep looking at that one person for as long as it takes to complete a sentence. That’s it. Then look at someone else. Just one other person somewhere else in the audience. And speak to that person.
Lee Glickstein, author of Be Heard Now! says it this way: “Speak every word to the eyes and heart of another human being.”
You’ll discover two things when you speak to just one other person at a time. First, you won’t freak yourself out. What’s so scary about speaking to one person? You do it all the time. And second, everyone in the audience will feel like you’re speaking directly to them. Trust me on this one. It’s true.