Of the four types of presenters (Refusers, Resisters, Reluctants, and [Real] Enthusiasts) that I’m going to talk about, the true Refuser is probably the rarest. These are the people who won’t get up and talk in front of an audience despite any rewards they’re offered for doing so or punishments they’ll face if they don’t.
Why are Refusers so rare? The truth is that most people just don’t have a choice about whether we’re going to be presenters or not. If you interact with other people at just about any level, whether it’s with your family, at school, in church, or among any other group that you belong to, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in a position where you’re asked to give a presentation, even if it’s an informal one.
And it’s really hard to say no to these requests, especially if they’re part of your job. Few of us have the ability to tell our bosses that we’re not going to do something they ask. True refusers would be unable to take a wide range of jobs that require talking to people, everything from teacher to lawyer to sales and really anything that requires speaking up in a meeting. Which rules out most well-paying careers.
The best example of a Refuser I know takes me all the way back to the ninth grade. My English class had a public speaking unit and we were all asked to give a “speech” on how something worked. It didn’t matter what you chose as your subject, and I doubt anyone cared if your information was accurate. The whole idea was to get up in front of your similarly awkward peers and say something. But a friend of mine thought that this was some sort of crime against humanity being perpetrated against us. She tried to encourage a group of my friends to go on strike and refuse to give a talk at all, which would mean that we’d automatically get failing grades.
Now, it wasn’t that I was eager to get up and have everyone else look at me. What ninth grader would be? And I have no idea why I chose to speak about how a television worked (sadly, the knowledge I gained in this exercise isn’t even relevant anymore since the technology has totally changed). But I did make a decision at that point that I didn’t want to label myself as the kind of person who couldn’t get up and give a talk. I had a feeling that if I said no at that point I’d forever be the kind of person who couldn’t speak in public, and I didn’t want to have that limitation on me.
I don’t remember what grade I earned, but my friend got a zero. We weren’t ever as good of friends as we had been before.
Despite most peoples’ aversion to public speaking, there aren’t a huge number of Refusers, and most people who would like to refuse wind up being nudged into speaking up. If you see Refuser tendencies in yourself, my best advice for getting over this is to start small. Try thinking of little things that you do, talking to a friend, telling a story, asking someone for a favor, as a kind of presentation. You don’t even have to tell the other people that’s what you’re doing. Once you get used to this kind of presentation, you can work on more formal things for bigger groups. The idea is to just do something to overcome the inertia so you’re no longer labelled as one of those people who just can’t or won’t speak.
The sad fact is that Refusers really limit their options– like people who refuse to fly, there are just certain jobs they just won’t ever be able to do, places that they won’t ever be able to go. And by refusing they give up on any of the benefits you can achieve from being a good presenter.
You don’t want to be one of those people, do you? Why limit yourself?