We’ve all heard someone say it: “Oh, you’re a natural.” The phrase is meant as a compliment, of course, and it can be. Often all anyone means by it is that you came across really well, as if you were at ease with a given task, as if it took no effort at all.
In speaking, seeming at ease is crucial. Nerves and anxiety can really damage a speaker’s rapport with their audience. It can be difficult to inspire trust in an audience if you’re visibly shaking or audibly hesitant.
That said, few concepts are as damaging for nervous speakers as the idea of “the natural”. If there are people out there who are indeed superb speakers right out of the gate, then it follows that there are some people who simply could never speak convincingly, however hard they tried.
This is just wrong. The best speakers are almost always the most practiced. Great communicators think deeply about how they can connect with people. Some individuals have a natural charisma, others have some sort of innate social skill. None, though, can get on a stage in front of a roomful of people and simply open their mouths.
In fact, appearing at ease on stage is a skill you can learn. Part of it comes from the confidence of having rehearsed. If you know what you are going to say, how you are going to say it, and are certain you can do so to good effect, then you will appear self-possessed and natural.
The best way to seem nervous, on the other hand, is not to prepare. Even a “natural” will under-perform if they under-prepare. Seeming at home on stage is a sort of trick. A speaker wants their audience to relax, because audiences that feel comfortable are ones which will be more receptive. Learning to seem at ease is a great way of achieving that.
“The natural”, then, is very often simply a speaker who has done their homework. That’s good news for us all, because it means that with the right learning we can all become better speakers – and learn how to treat the stage like a second home.
So many would-be speakers have told me that they simply don’t have the skill, as if speakers are born rather than trained. My first job is always to show them that all skills can be learned.
Tone of voice, speech-writing and body language can all be honed with practice. To modulate your voice, you can learn vocal techniques; to practice body language you can buy a full-length mirror. Becoming a good speaker is in your power!
Next time you hear someone call you a natural, then, you should by all means take the compliment graciously. Always remember, though, that the myth of the natural is just that. There’s no such thing as a natural – but we can all look like one if we try.