7 Techniques for Effective Public Speaking from Johnny Carson
According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. — Jerry Seinfeld
Do you believe that fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death? Indeed it does according to the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. We all have self-imposed taboos in our lives. We avoid many things in life without exploring the thrill of it because of the phobic sense of failure that only exists in our mind. We relish the beauty of a mountain but dread the thought of climbing that same mountain;we gaze in awe at the gliders and feel the sheer joy of surfing the sky but we never give it a try.
Have you ever pondered that this act of self-imposed limitation has imprisoned you not to dream and to succeed beyond your wildest imagination? Have you ever felt the pressure of self focused thoughts prohibiting you from picking up a microphone in a public gathering to crack few jokes? We all have.
The simple fact is that our financial success largely relies on our skill to articulate our ideas either at work or in the business. Knowledge is vital for success but knowledge about how to sell knowledge is even of greater importance in any endeavor.
What if you were to know that the “King of Comedy”, the man who defined and ruled the late night talk show with his art of public speaking, Johnny Carson, was frightened every night for thirty years before going on stage only to keep millions of viewers in America watching the ‘Late Night’ show before going to bed?
How to Master the Art of Public Speaking
Public speaking is an art — it can be learned. Johnny Carson had mastered this craft with his passion, the practice of writing jokes, and his willingness to learn every facet of public engagement with hard work behind the curtain that was seldom ever mentioned in the tabloids.
I’ve had a phobic sense of shyness since early on in my life. At every public gathering, I focused on myself intensely. This obsessive self-focus created an imaginary stonewall for my natural expressions. I often lacked the words when asked to speak and became speechless at times in front of even a small group of people. I found myself confirming self-imposed stereotypes of my inept skill at public speaking, and would be scared when an opportunity came along to speak at another event. Soon I realized this fact and learned the skills to speak anywhere without a speck of fear in my mind.
You can also squash the bug of fear and self-imposed restrictions if you believe that the art of public speaking is something you can conquer and master with your audacity to connect with the audience and to speak from your heart about the subject with facts and humor. After all, Johnny Carson has become an American legend by just doing that.
Technique # 1. Connect with your audience quickly.
“Married men live longer than single men. But married men are a lot more willing to die.” — Johnny Carson
Have you felt exasperated while patiently waiting for your laptop to connect to your wireless network? Have you felt the knock out punch of sadness when you realized that you are out of luck while trying to surf the internet? These things happen in a matter of minutes. Public speaking is no different when it comes to the time that you have to connect with and surf the minds of the listeners in front of you.
If you wobble in the first few minutes, you haven’t yet lost the battle but if you don’t do anything about it, you surely will. Johnny Carson worked tirelessly on his monologues that often encompassed the heartbeats of America. He connected with 20 millions viewers worldwide with the magic of his words. He championed the art of the monologue to the degree that during the monologue of 19 December 1973, he said — “You know what’s disappearing from the supermarket shelves? Toilet paper! There’s an acute shortage of toilet paper in the United States.” Astonishingly, the very next morning, his 20 million viewers attempted to buy all the toilet paper that existed in the market only to find Johnny Carson later apologizing for his joke. Practice every speech with a breath-taking yet factual opening statement. You are on your way to dominate the minds in front of you if you open the speech with what matters most to them. Johnny always focused on the interviewees and his audience.
Technique # 2. Remember that you are an entertainer.
“I can’t say I ever wanted to become an entertainer. I already was one, sort of – around the house, at school, doing my magic tricks, throwing my voice and doing Popeye impersonations. People thought I was funny; so I kind of took entertaining for granted… It was inevitable that I’d start giving little performances.” — Johnny Carson
When you are out there at the podium, it’s overwhelming to focus on that thousands of faces are staring at you and every gesture you are making. You are not alone in feeling the pinch. The greats like Johnny felt the same way speaking in front of his 20 million viewers. How did he overcome the dread? — With his genuine sense of humor and knowing the fact that he was an entertainer for all of those who wanted to learn the news of the day with fun. It’s his deftness to blend sensational news with a touch of fun that left millions spellbound for every bit of a Johnny Carson show. Always remember that you are an entertainer even if you are talking about the next release of Windows Vista in front of none other than Bill Gates. Add a spice of humor into your facts and you’ll make an instant recipe for public domination. Some call it charisma but it’s nothing more than a ticket to own the minds that are craving for some fun along the way.
Technique # 3. Be hilarious by poking fun at yourself.
“If variety is the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam.” — Johnny Carson
All of us have met personal failures at various stages in our lives. We eagerly share those moments with close friends as we feel a close bond with them about our feelings and emotional ties. Johnny Carson used this simple axiom of life to create an instant emotional bond with millions of his viewers by cracking jokes about his marital problems. He had three failed marriages. He used the blips in his personal life to his advantage by sharing that he was among us. He faced the same challenges in his life as any other American who otherwise considered him immune from the fate of an average Joe. He not only made millions of people laugh at seemingly sour moments but also established an instant rapport with them by winning their credibility. His audience felt a simmer of honesty in every joke he cracked about his own marital problems. Use the difficulties you’ve faced to your advantage by sharing it with your audience with a burst of laughter. You’ll be amazed at the power of clarity that ensues.
If anyone was the butt of Carson’s humor, it was Carson himself. — David Edelstein on Johnny Carson
Technique # 4. What’s in it for your audience?
“Democracy is buying a big house you can’t afford with money you don’t have to impress people you wish were dead.” — Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson’s legendary success to win the hearts of millions of viewers who viewed him with the zeal of a cult lies in his innate desire to know and bring to the spotlight the core issues of an average American. He never had a dearth of money but he never lost sight of the message of simplicity and common sense that he considered important for his audience. He constantly worked on and mastered the art of enabling his audience to relate to him and the message he was relaying to them with the touch of humor. He treated his audience with utmost respect and transparency. Never lose focus of the fact that you have to enable your audience to relate to you and to the core of your speech. Try to interject relevant life experiences that you have dealt with before to show a sense of transparency with your audience. One of the best ways to connect with your audience is to become astory-teller like Johnny Carson who had deftness to blend natural wit with his ability to perceive humor in everyday situations.
Technique # 5. Change your perception.
“Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: Are your ready?” — Johnny Carson
One of the best ways to master the art of public speaking is to change our perception of audiences — from our natural tendency to seeing them as our critics as opposed to our friends — who have genuine interest in our success as a speaker. After all, if the gathered audience has bestowed you with generosity of their time to listen to you, why would they want you to fail at the podium? Johnny Carson was an aloof person while not in front of the camera. His persona on the show was quite opposite to how he lived his life when the lights went off. Nonetheless, he was the “King of Comedy” for the very reason that he knew that an average viewer wanted to have a hearty laugh before calling an end to their day. He acknowledged that his viewers were happy to hand him the tough job of entertainment and silently they were rooting for him at every joke he cracked. It’s no different for you when it comes to public speaking. Most listeners are glad that you have taken the hard job of entertaining the audience and, contrary to your self-imposed belief.
Technique # 6. Have a blast.
“And so it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it.” — Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson knew well that one cannot rule the hearts of millions and make them laugh every night unless he immersed the best of his talent and had a blast. Johnny Carson had over 20 million viewers twenty-five years ago not just for being the best at making these viewers chuckle but also for enjoying every moment of his own late night show. If you don’t enjoy your speech, if you are not investing in your own words, no one else will either. You can have wealth of wisdom yet fail miserably at the podium for being too pedantic and boring. Your audience yearns for the imperfect words of passion more than the flawless speech of a robot. Take the focus off of yourself. Let your identity vanish when you are at the podium. If you remember to speak just to have a good time, you’ll flourish as a speaker. It is natural to feel the burden of self-focus that exists when you pick up the microphone but remember that no one cares much about a single speech for too long. Instead of focusing on the dread that makes your lips quiver, focus on those eagerly waiting to receive a genuine joke from you. Your intensive focus on receiving applause and respect from an audience should serve should be replaced by your focus on giving value to your audience with a genuine sense of sparkling wit and fun.
Technique # 7. Practice, Practice, Practice.
“My success just evolved from working hard at the business at hand each day.” — Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson worked tirelessly to craft a perfect stage presence. He edited his own jokes. He practiced his opening monologue. He relentlessly worked on his golf swing, his timing, delivery, and gestures. All of the hard work made him the “King of Comedy”. If you prepare your speech thoroughly by researching what your audience likes, by researching the local facts most relevant to your audience, you will feel confident at the podium. Remember, Johnny Carson made a plethora of errors but only he knew the content. You have a natural advantage. You are in control of what you say. If you miss a few words or a few facts, your audience is unaware of that. Join your local toastmaster club. Master the art of public speaking by finding your own style, gestures and a method that allows you to remember the key parts of your speech.
It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech. –Mark Twain (1835-1910) U.S. humorist, writer, and lecturer.
As opposed to a prevailing myth, mastery in public speaking is not confined to an élite few. By learning from the likes of Johnny Carson, you can transform your numb silence into confident, fluent public speaking. Are you ready?