One of the questions commonly asked in my training sessions is this: “What will others think about me?” Whether it be professionals or students they share this same concern.
The reason for this worry probably is rooted in the fear of rejection.
Often I’ve seen many talented speakers in my training sessions make wrong judgements of their own speech. They sport a sad face after they speak. If asked why they look so defeated, the reply usually is, “I did not do well.”
This reaction is usually triggered by a few inattentive participants in the group. The speaker therefore concludes that his or her speech was not worth listening to. The truth is that you cannot judge the quality of your speech by audience reaction alone.
Look at these three incidents and come to your own conclusion regarding, “What will others think about me?”
The first one happened at a recording in All India Radio, Thiruvananthapuram studio. I had sent one of my students to do the recording of a story for Yuvavani a youth programme. She was reading her script in the recording room. From there she could see the computer room through a glass partition.
A few people who were involved in the recording process were talking with each other and laughing in that room. Their jovial chatter posed no threat to my student who was reading her script well because it was a sound-proof room. Yet at one point in time the graph on the computer screen stopped showing the voice-recording. My student had stopped reading!
Surprised by this (because my student was reading well), one of the programme executives came over to her side from the other room. She was asked why she had stopped reading. The reply took the programme executive by surprise.
My student told the programme executive that she had suddenly panicked thinking that all of the programme executives were laughing and joking at her poor reading. How far from the truth it was! The programme executives were sharing some funny stories. It had nothing to do with my student reading her script (this was her first recording experience too).
The second incident happened many years ago at the College Annual Day. It was March 17, 1995. I had the privilege of doing the Reply to the Toast Speech. It was a speech that I had dreamed of doing the last year of my college and I had prepared well to the best of my ability.
After having studied in Mar Ivanios College, University of Kerala, for seven years, I knew a large majority of students seated in the auditorium personally. Yet a couple of minutes after I started to speak there were howls and boos from the jam-packed audience. It took me by surprise because I was delivering a very carefully prepared speech.
I was shaken a little bit because that was the first time I faced such a reaction from the crowd in the college auditorium. That being my last speech (a swan song, so to say) at the auditorium as a student of the college, I felt sad too. But somehow I kept my composure and finished the speech.
After the programme was over, my teachers congratulated me for the wonderful speech I had delivered. Now it really baffled me why then had the crowd created trouble for me while I spoke?
As I thought on this contradiction, the truth dawned on me. There were several speeches that had preceded my speech. The student community were gathered together that day not to listen to speeches but to listen to the songs and enjoy the dance programmes that would follow in the variety entertainment segment.
The students had howled to send across the message that they wanted the cultural programmes to begin quickly. Their howls had nothing to do with the quality of my speech.
So let me come back to that original question, “What will others think about me?” The truth is that they might not be thinking anything negative about you at all. Their reactions might have to do with something else. While you speak, do not try too much to read negative meanings into reactions in the audience.
Let me now move on to the third incident. At National Institute of Personnel Management (Trivandrum Chapter), I asked all my students to read aloud what I had written on the board. After all the twenty-three students had read those lines, I asked one student to stand up and read those lines again. Her reaction took me by surprise.
Almost in tears, she asked me, “Why Sir, why do you want me to read again?” She thought that I had found fault with her reading. The truth was, her reading was so excellent that I wanted the other students to listen to her once again! How wrong an interpretation and negative colouring she had given to the request!
Isn’t it true that we often jump into wrong conclusions from how others react? Therefore, kindly stop thinking too much about what others think about you.
Instead focus on how wonderfully unique you are. The truth is that you have a value and identity in God’s eyes that cannot be wiped out by any negative thinking others have of you.