I was speaking to a convention of Toastmasters and mentioned the nervousness most of us feel as we begin our speaking careers.

It reminded me of Solomon Asch's experiment in the 1950s which showed how much we need other people's approval.

Asch's conformity experiments

Asch put students around a table and showed them lines on a card. They had to say which lines were the same height. Six of the seven students were stooges, instructed to follow the leader. The real subject of the experiment was number seven.

Asch found that one third of the students agreed with the stooges, even when they were clearly wrong. The students were from what Solomon Asch diplomatically described as 'institutions of higher learning' where they were being trained to think independently.

The connection with Toastmasters and public speaking?

When we need our audience's approval too much, they control us. Worrying about what they think of us lies behind our nervousness. We are in danger of judging ourselves as we imagine they would judge us and heading into a downward spiral as we become more and more aware of mistakes in our performance.

Instead of focusing on what they think of us, let's decide that, while we welcome feedback, ultimately we will judge our performance ourselves.

There's another danger in needing their approval: we may be less frank with them than we should be. Let's decide that it's in their interests and ours to be frank, not pander to them.

Thinking independently is fundamental to doing a better job for the audience. It helps us develop our resilience too.