One of the defining qualities of a good public speaker is the willingness to make a fool of yourself. At the New Media Atlanta conference in 2009, Chris Brogan was the last keynote of the day. He’d watched all day as the backchannel drowned in snark. He could have chosen to play safe. Instead he started his keynote presentation with a rap song.

Chris Brogan was willing to take the risk that he might make a fool of himself. And that’s part of the reason why he’s a good public speaker.Abraham_Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln said:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

It’s a funny line, but if you live your life by it you’ll live a stunted life. Marc of Marc and Angel Hack Life has created a clever reversal of Lincoln’s quote:

I would rather sound stupid…

Than be stupid and take no action at all.

So how to be a good public speaker? Be willing to make a fool of yourself.

What’s stopping you?

Here’s what I used to tell myself:

“If I make a fool of myself in front of all these people that would be a complete disaster. It would be the end of the world. I just couldn’t cope with the humiliation and embarrassment.”

That fear of the possibility that I might make a fool of myself stopped me from expressing myself in many situations. I wouldn’t speak up in meetings unless I was 100% sure that my opinion was right. I wouldn’t enter into a debate at a dinner party unless I was absolutely sure that I knew all the facts.

Can you relate?

I got over this when I realized that making a fool of myself was not a disaster. I realized that I could cope. That life would go on.

Take risks

The way to show yourself that you can cope with making a fool of yourself is simply this: Make a fool of yourself!

To be a good public speaker regularly take actions that carry a risk that you’ll make a fool of yourself or feel embarrassed. You’ll gradually increase your comfort level with making a fool of yourself. Here’s some examples of actions you could take:

1. Ring a wrong number deliberately and say “I’m sorry, I dialled the wrong number”.

2. Go out say shopping in a  lower standard of dress than you feel comfortable with. My partner, Tony, went shopping in his dressing gown!

3. Go to a park and pretend you’ve lost your dog. Yell out your dog’s name (you don’t need a dog for this BTW). Ask people if they’ve seen your dog.

I’ve developed a program with a list of 10 “making a fool of yourself” actions. Click through to see the list and instructions for how to work your way through it.

What makes a good public speaker? The willingness to make a fool of yourself.

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