Thursday, June 23 2022

Stage fright, humanity’s second greatest fear (no prizes for guessing the first), has given way to zoom fear these days. People freeze when asked to speak, even on a remote camera, even though they’re ensconced in their duvets, anywhere in the northern sector!

Just talking to an audience, even if that audience is two people, is intimidating for newcomers. It takes time, effort, practice and patience to become a seasoned presenter. But some of us yearn to reach more sacred heights, those reached only by renowned speakers, those who sound oohs and aahs every time they address a gathering.

Today, podcasters like Ranveer Ahlabadia, with millions of social media followers, are the benchmark for public speaking success in the virtual world. Having shared the screen with him recently, I can attest to the fact that the young man has a style all his own. He is wide-eyed, but erudite and charming.

So what makes some speakers more impressive than others, on camera and on stage? It’s the ability to connect with viewers that leaves a mark.

“What comes from the heart goes to the heart”, as the saying goes. This is established by speakers such as Dananajaya Hettiarachchi, former world champion of Toastmasters, a global public speaking association. In his remarkable, direct seven-minute monologue that won him the crown, he made his audience swallow every word with uncanny ease.

Being yourself is probably the most important secret to success as a speaker. Coupled with impressive content and delivery, it represents a winning formula that cannot fail. There is no point in trying to imitate Amitabh Bachchan or MS Dhoni, speaking in front of enthusiastic audiences. You have to develop your own style and stick to it.

In a recent video, I presented some tips for talking online. An online speaker needs seamless connectivity, a nice background, and a stable posture that’s not too close to the camera. Only a very pretty or beautiful face can afford to allow the camera to look very closely, otherwise human flaws are bound to be obvious even to the casual viewer!

I found this especially true for Instagram live sessions. The more I try to stay distant and avoid close-ups, the more I end up being scrutinized on screen by hundreds, up close. Better to keep your nose away from the device at these times, I tell you!

A louder voice, activated by a microphone, if possible, also helps ensure that viewers don’t start to doze off or wander off. Sometimes the speaker is barely audible and people tend to get distracted very easily.

With attention spans miniscule these days, speakers with substance, panache, and grit get the most eyeballs online. A few corporate honchos such as Ashok Ramachandran, Saumya Badgayan, and Simarpreet Singh have started their own YouTube channels and are very popular among the budding population because they speak sense and are fluent.

My own idol remains Barack Obama, as readers must have discerned from my past writings in this column. He is an artist orator, whether he espouses his wisdom in front of a camera or in front of a collection of human beings. Her mastery of every word and the sweet smile ready to burst but not quite playing on her lips are her trademarks.

Simon Sinek, the US-based internet icon who continually influences the thoughts of young people around the world, is another to admire. But his strong point lies in his incisive and analytical content that he delivers in a fairly simple way, without batting an eyelid. Otherwise, its monotonous drawl, pronounced without too many smiles, could put some people off!

My own downside as a motivational speaker has been similar, according to those who should know. I need to smile more and radiate more warmth when speaking in public. I’m working on it as we speak, or as you read this. And the next time you see me, you might find me smiling even more!

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