Could blushing improve your public speaking skills?

Could blushing improve your public speaking skills?

What can you expect to happen to your body the moment you stand up to speak in public? Well first, be prepared, it can take on a life of its own! Sweaty palms, weak knees (though they rarely seem to knock) and a desert dry mouth could be the least of your worries, for me, I always blushed!

For a long time the physiological reaction that happened to me when I stood up to speak was I would blush red as the nose on Rudolph’s face. I would walk to the stage and then it would start. The adrenaline raced through my body from my adrenal glands to the veins in my face like a starving student on supermarket sweep with seconds to spare. The chemical transmitters commanded my veins to open as wide as a sergeant majors mouth shouting strict steps to squaddies square-bashing on a sunny parade ground. Uncontrollable physiological programs petitioned the adrenaline to act and do its magic superior than a David Copperfield trick. Suddenly those pulsating, patches of pink, proclaimed to anyone within eyesight of my beetroot reddening face that I am that I am blushing 25 shades of pink.

Why do we blush?

A Russian would Kраснеть, a Latvian would sarkt, a Swed would Rodna and Parisian, having a social faux pas’ would rougir, but me, I blush. Blushing has been found to be exclusive to humans. For example, my dog can have uncontrollable flatulence after eating a can of Pedigree Chum. My wife can get uncontrollable hiccups after downing a can of diet coke. Interestingly, only one of them blushes. (Good job I got that line the right way around!)

Did you know that Erythrophobia is the fear of blushing? Some 200 Britons a year are so afraid of tripping, falling, spilling drinks, ripping trousers, stalling the car, having one’s intimate private thoughts disclosed, accidental flatulence, belching, or receiving undesired attention, that they will have a ‘sympathectomy’ a procedure to permanently cut the nerve that controls the blood vessels in your face.

In his poem, My Rival, Rudyard Kipling describes blushes that travel hastily to our extremities this way:

I cannot control my girlish blush, my colour comes and goes,
I redden to my finger tips, and sometimes to my nose.

I know the feeling, Mr Kipling! And it’s not just your cheeks and nose that can go red. Your ears; neck and chest they can be as red as the cherry on top of one of Mr Kiplings exceedingly good iced Bakewell tarts! Each blush is different. Some come on thick, fast and furious, others spread slowly across the upper-body like a horrible, blotchy rash. Do you know what that feels like? Have you ever been so embarrassed that you wished the floor would open up and swallow your body whole? I have on many occasions and not only when speaking in public!

Locked In The Ladies Toilet!

LadiesRecently, I was again travelling through Amsterdam airport on my way to Kiev to work. Last year I strolled through the streets of Schiphol more than 50 times. I do it like I am on automatic pilot, which is a simple simile to use in a few words about an airport. Head down. Wheelie bag in tow, I head for the toilets. Once in the cubicle I unbuckle and sit. I hear the door to cubicle on my left click closed. The door to the cubicle on my right suddenly slams shut. I observe carefully the back of the ivory door 3 feet from my feet. No Dutch graffiti, mmm unusual. Then suddenly, from the corner of my eye I catch sight of a small grey box in the corner of the toilet with the words, “feminine hygiene products only” emblazoned on the top.

I jolted to my senses as my heart rate increased quicker than a Formula 1 car off the starting line. This coppery, sickly sweet taste filled my mouth, the heat rose from my toes as I felt the blush spread instantly from the bottom of my bottom up my neck up to my cheeks, it even felt like my scalp was burning. Sudden fear gripped as I realised my predicament, I was in the ladies toilet! And I had got to get out! I could feel by now my cheeks were 25 shades pinker than a Zinfandel from the Napa Valley!

Why Blushing Can Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Here’s the thing, we shouldn’t shun the times we blush. Even when we get to our feet to speak in public if the first response is our faces turn red, we should welcome the uncontrollable, involuntary inconvenience as it serves as a nonverbal display of authenticity.  It’s a prerequisite for embarrassment is to be able to feel how others feel — you have to be empathetic, it shows intelligence in social situations.

Being empathetic is also a key characteristic of speakers who connect well with an audience. Empathy in this context is, “the ability to be conscious of, and have compassion for, the emotional and intellectual state of your audience.” Some speakers seem to be so devoid of emotion that they can’t pick up the vital clues that an audience give off,  they even miss that guy in row 3 who has been snoring for the last 10 mins because the focus of the speech is all about the speaker and not at all about the audience.

So, if the next you get up to speak your face is glowing like the brake lights on a Mercedes truck, or even if you find spinach in your teeth, while looking at yourself in the mirror after spending the last 20 mins speaking to your boss, try to enjoy your blush. You might be hot and bothered, but to the rest of the world you look irresistibly attractive and more important, authentic.

I would love to hear techniques that you use to bring professionalism to your speaking and presentations, please let me know in the comments below, it would be great to hear from you. Let’s start a conversation! You can email me here or tweet me here.

By Peter Billingham

Image via stockxchnage 


Posted on by Peter Billingham in Blog Posts, Public Speaking

About Peter Billingham

Leader, Learner, Speechwriter, Storyteller, Author. a.k.a. 'The Artful Speaker' Enjoy working on social action projects, Toastmasters, films & adventure travel.

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