In recent posts I’ve shared a number of tips on how to deal with anxiety and nerves so they aren’t a major stumbling block to your success when speaking in public.

One of the ideas I put forward was that you should visualise yourself being successful. There you are – standing up, talking fluently, giving a great presentation with the audience hanging on your every word – and some of them are even taking notes! If the idea of visualisation appeals to you, then I’m sure you’ll want to know about Murphy Monkey.
Japanese Macaque
No doubt you’ve heard of Murphy’s Law i.e. ‘if it can go wrong, it will’. Often this law is applied to some sort of mechanical or technical failure. As far as I’m aware there is no connection between Murphy’s Law and Murphy Monkey.

The originator of the Murphy Monkey concept is John Townsend, author of ‘The Presentations Pocketbook’ published by Management Pocketbooks Ltd. This is how he describes it.

“As you get up to speak, it’s as if a monkey has suddenly jumped onto your shoulders. He claws your neck and weighs you down making your knees feel weak and shaky. As you start to speak, he pulls at your vocal chords and dries up your saliva. He pushes your eyes to the floor, makes your arms feel 10 metres long and attaches a piece of elastic to your belt – pulling you back to the table or wall behind you! Experienced speakers know about the Murphy monkey. Within the first 30 seconds they throw him to the audience! When you throw the monkey to one of the participants, suddenly the spotlight is on them and not on you…….”

Townsend goes on to make some suggestions as to how you can gain audience participation e.g. ask a question; ask for a show of hands; refer to a certain group within the audience; invite a volunteer to do something. Shifting focus onto the audience temporarily takes the pressure off you and gives you time to relax a bit and feel ready to communicate your message.

However, I recommend you exercise caution. Whilst I agree that some form of interaction with the audience can be useful, it’s not always possible or appropriate to do so. In fact I’d say it’s inadvisable if you lack the confidence to carry it off, if your subject matter is likely to be controversial or if your timescale is very tight.

I’ve encountered Murphy Monkey a few times when I’ve been giving a presentation. While perched on your shoulder, I’ve found he takes the opportunity to whisper unhelpful things in your ear just before you start to speak. He might say things such as: ‘You’re rubbish’; ‘The last speaker was much better’; ‘You know what a disaster your last presentation was’; ‘This audience looks bored already!’

Don’t let Murphy Monkey put you off – instead, banish him well before you stand up to speak. Here’s what to do: pick up Murphy, tell him firmly that he’s not invited and if he doesn’t leave of his own accord you’ll throw him out the window! Now that Murphy Monkey has gone, remind yourself of all the positives: you know your subject; you’re well prepared; you’ve practised and your audience will be attentive – especially now that Murphy Monkey won’t be around to cause any distractions.

By the way, the monkey pictured is not Murphy. This one is a well behaved Japanese macaque that I met on a recent visit to the Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Scotland.

In future posts I will be giving tips on how to prepare and structure a successful presentation.

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