Confessions of A Trivia Host: Nobody is a Public Speaking Expert

As a professional trivia host, I am always on the lookout for opportunities to practice and improve my public speaking skills. While I spend most weeknights producing and hosting live trivia parties and corporate team building activities in New York City, by day I serve as director of adult learning & enrichment programs at the 92nd Street Y, a major cultural and community center in Manhattan. Occasionally, this role allows me the honor of introducing speakers onstage as part of 92Y’s celebrated lecture series, a special perk requiring me to (briefly) address upwards of 900 people – a thrilling, rewarding opportunity indeed!

I was recently asked to introduce a speaker, and was happy to do so. Donning a nice suit, I prepared my opening remarks, and strode out onstage with the confidence of someone who has done more than his share of public speaking. I spoke strongly and clearly, didn’t stumble, and even made a quick joke or two which got laughs before introducing the lecturer. In short, I nailed it- or so I thought.

After the event – still glowing at my expertly-delivered introductory address –  a gentleman came up to me in the lobby. “Good job!” he said. “Thank you!” I replied, feeling all the more validated in my public speaking awesomeness. “Can I offer you some free advice?” he continued. That caught me off guard. I looked at him quizzically, and raised my eyebrows. “Don’t cross your right leg behind your left when you speak. Don’t grip the lectern. Look out at the audience more, and don’t drop your eyes to the notes so much.”

I was stunned. Trying to recover from this embarrassing dress down, I said, “Thank you for the feedback. I assume you were sitting up front?” This time, he was the one with the raised eyebrows. “Actually, I was in the last row.” He handed me his card. Would you believe it, the guy was a public speaking coach.

Without realizing it, I had just been evaluated by a professional, and guess what? Years of hosting trivia, emceeing events and providing onstage introductions had NOT left me with flawless speaking skills like I’d thought. Feeling humbled – yet grateful – I realized that even though I had worked long and hard to perfect my proficiency in this area, there are always those “unknown knowns” lurking – the things that others can see, but which you yourself cannot.

This experience was a sharp reminder that when it comes to speaking in public, nobody is an expert; there is always something new to be learned, practiced and developed, and plenty of room for perpetual improvement. Do you strive to be a public speaking “expert?” If so, what steps might you recommend?

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