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The Role of the Feedback Loop in Public Speaking

The Role of the Feedback Loop in Public Speaking

The effect of the feedback loop in public speaking can turn a misfortune to a disaster. The familiar problem of forgetting your lines can lead to increasing panic when the problem does not resolve itself in a few seconds. Such discomfort can affect the rest of the speech if confidence is reduced.

The feedback loop occurs in many scientific and engineering situations. Methods of curtailing the effect of a positive feedback loop, often referred to as vicious circle, is the subject of this article.

How is one to prevent panic from generating more panic? The answer has to be by reducing the effect of the audience. I can offer no antidote for the speaker who is expected to be experienced; they are expected to cope in the relevant circumstances. For others I would suggest the benefit of practising with a sympathetic audience composed perhaps of a class in public speaking where the audience will be sharing the experience in their turn. The important issue is to reduce the worry that forgotten lines can induce. Adequate notes to refer to if necessary will remove much of the worry. I find a power point or slide presentation invaluable for reminding me what to say next. It is also a distraction for the audience to watch while you are preparing for the next comment.

Cutting off the effect of the audience entirely may be possible by reading the speech. Whilst this is not recommended, and you will certainly not be recommended as a public speaker, it is nevertheless better than drying up completely.

An open loop is one where the feedback does not operate. For example by speaking into a microphone in a separate room the speaker will not be aware of the audience reaction. Again this is not suitable for the experienced speaker who should be aware of the audience reaction in order to generate a more intimate relationship.

Less drastic than an open loop are methods of reducing the loop gain by sharing the problem with the audience. There is nothing wrong in admitting that you have forgotten the next point. Most audiences will be sympathetic, if only because many will have experienced the same problem themselves at some time. A useful ploy is to engage the audience in discussing the issues you are raising. This not only gives you time to collect your thoughts you might get some useful tips that you can enlarge on.

One of the other points in the list of methods is the use of external force or influence to solve the problem. In this case a good chairman might control the proceedings, perhaps by asking the speaker to clarify or enlarge on a point. It is certainly the job of the chairman to have some questions ready at the start of the question period in order to prevent the embarrassing silence that may be offered by an audience that is out of its depth.

A change of theme can be orchestrated by the meeting being conducted as an interview. The interviewer should be sympathetic to the questions that are in the mind of the audience. This method will also break up the talk into topics rather than have a speaker who drones on and on.

Lastly, a negative feedback loop will provide the feedback that is necessary to keep the audience with you. Such a loop is not negative in the sense of being destructive, it is a loop that provides compensation when a situation is moving out of its intended area. A question and answer session is ideal for this purpose since it identifies where the audience is at and zeros in on the issues of concern to them. It also gives the speaker something more to talk about.