Undressing the audience, part 2

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I feel we glossed over the title in that last one, and it had so much psychological potential. The derobing of any audience through the persuasive ability of a speaker is a major feat of oratory brilliance, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s only been accomplished on three rather malleable types of onlooker:

1. Groupies

2. Nudists

3. The occasional protester

There’s an old cliche meant to soothe stage fright which goes, ‘Picture your audience in their underwear.’ Allegedly, the people who comprise any crowd are wearing underwear, so you aren’t picturing anything that isn’t really there. They just have the added accoutrements of pants and shirts and socks to contend with.

I don’t think this whole idea is based on accurate information anymore. I believe a goodly number of any persons gathered in a room today will in fact not be wearing underwear, as a lifestyle choice. (A few will also be commando because they have temporary laundry issues.)

If your intention is to actually make your audience naked, these underwearless are going to be the hardest nuts to crack (no pun intended). Why? Because if people are going to get naked, they’re going to hafta overcome the psychological safeguards in place that keep them from doing crazy shit in public. A key element to making a behavior seem acceptable is by having everyone present exercise the same behavior at the same time.

Nudity in concert.

It’s hard to picture, I know. The thought that any single key-note speaker could turn the PTA meeting into a nips and knobs fest; even Nietzsche himself couldn’t make a board meeting that interesting, surely…

Yeah, it’s a long-shot, but there is a practical possibility that a persuasive speaker could pull it off under the right circumstances. Ideally, you would have an adult audience, isolated from any larger group of onlookers or passerbys. You would also need a speaker with formidable stage presence and an air of personal authority.

Many people are willing to do the strangest things if you take away the element of personal responsibility. If you convince an audience they are hypnotized, while it doesn’t grant you actual control over their actions, you remove the uncomfortable element of responsibility from the participants shoulders, and they become more willing to experiment.

Additional possibilities include giving your audience masks to wear before entering the setting, and carefully constructing an artificial, mental environment where the boundaries of the real world are perceived to dissolve. Alter the structure of an individual’s personal reality, and often-times the rules of the real world will cease to operate for that individual.

A third approach which increases the influence of the orator requires some type of buy-in from the audience before their participation is granted. You can vest a figurehead with increased influence, merely by making that speaker’s inner circle difficult to attain. If audience members have had to go through some sort of difficult ordeal to be granted the privilege of attending, they will be more likely to go along with the speaker’s authority. They are invested.

But commandos still pose a problem. These are the black sheep, the free thinkers in some cases. If they are actual deviants, they will feel some vestige of puritanical shame at their naked under parts. Or, they may take pride in their ‘outsider status’, which means that though they might embrace the idea of public nudity, they will chafe against the perception of being lead to this state by a source of authority.

A commando will probably be the one to sink in their heels against the idea of removing their clothes ‘just cus everyone else is doing it’, no matter how the nudity is achieved. Even if the nudity is slow and gentle, with a whole group removing one article of clothing at a time, and being given the chance to grow accustomed to the idea gradually.

A commando is likely to simply not participate. That is how things can fall apart. There is a delicate point when most people have just gotten naked, and become aware that others in the room are still clothed. The element of self-awareness comes into play. If not all the audience members are acting in unison, even one person can become the equivalent of the eyes of God in the Garden of Eden. A single sweater-clad individual can make everyone else acutely aware of their nudity. They will feel awkward and ashamed. They will feel naked.

The only way to really circumvent this debacle is to bring the clothed person or persons up in front of the group and make them the center of attention. Preempt the moment of self-awareness by changing the focus. When surrounded by eyes and flesh protrusions, a commando will begin to feel the oddity of their clothed state. In essence, you can reverse the role of naked and clothed by creating a stigma out of dissent.

author’s note: I was gonna write this as humor, but it didn’t come out that way. What came out I think was pretty accurate. And that was actually kind of frightening, on reflection.

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9 thoughts on “Undressing the audience, part 2

  1. Hail Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!

    The naked thing never worked for me. And I always ended up in a nervous sweat or almost keeled over myself.

    I’ve tried imagining the audience is under my spell, but that just was too weird and too distracting. I ended up forgetting what I was about to say… Thereby worsening the situation.

    I think all the preparation for facing the public must come before the occasion. While on-stage, the only thing in your mind should be what you are saying and nothing else. Any on-thes-spot self-conditioning will completely unbalance your train of thought.
    What if you are asked a few questions after the speech? It’s quite hard to think about them and your self-control techniques at the same time… At least it was for me.

    A quote by Miyamoto Musashi gave me great strength during exceptionally bad cases of stage fright…
    “Even if you are aware that you may be struck down today and are firmly resolved to an inevitable death, if you are slain with an unseemly appearance, you will show your lack of previous resolve, will be despised by your enemy, and will apear unclean.”

  2. I think that the reason so many people have trouble with public speaking is that they hear the advice but in their state of anxiety they misconstrue it as suggesting they imagine themselves as being naked in front of the audience so the only confident speakers are the ultra exhibitionists.

    And regarding how to separate people from their clothing? Convince them that their clothing is tainted in some way. Toxic. Think up some argument whereby the clothing is a threat to the individual.

    Or if you were lucky enough to be you, you could use your skill at poker to beat the audience at once ludicrously large and Guiness worthy entry game of strip poker.

  3. Great post……wonderful insights; bringing them up front would do it.

    I hate public speaking to smallish groups, say around a meeting table of 10, 12 people, it’s too intimate, the ‘audience’ is too close but am fine up on stage with a mike in front of lots (well when I did such things, very occasionally, way back….). I tend to zone out, become a different person (and in England we are told to picture them on the crapper…….we’re so uncouth over here :) )

  4. “Many people are willing to do the strangest things if you take away the element of personal responsibility. If you convince an audience they are hypnotized, while it doesn’t grant you actual control over their actions, you remove the uncomfortable element of responsibility from the participants shoulders, and they become more willing to experiment.”

    This was a technique I employed during my wedding ceremony. Without it, my wife would never have married me. Of course, I had no such success with the honeymoon…

  5. Bob- That made me laugh, though I’m not buying it.

    jo- Ha, you guys can get away with it… Why is it everything sounds so elegant in an English accent? Even if you talk like sailors it sound posh and cultured to the American ear.

    aos- There’s an idea. All in?

    Eksith- Wow. Wow, see, I’ve been waiting a long time to be greeted like that. ;)

    It’s a good quote… Musashi is Japanese? ‘Inevitable death’ and the absolute standard of maintaining honor are kind of common themes in Japanese culture and media, it seems to me.

  6. I loved this post, and your speculations regarding what it would take to get a roomful of people to remove their clothing. And you’re quite right to observe that normalcy is defined by what everyone else is doing, even if it seems insane. The Nazis kind of relied on that idea, but it comes up again and again in all sorts of contexts.

    Regarding audiences … I’ve always thought that picturing the audience naked, or on the toilet, or in any state of compromised dignity, is a huge insult to what communication should be about. I realize that the point is to make the speaker realize that the audience is only human, but … there are better ways to do that than by compromising the perceived dignity of the audience. But that’s just me, maybe, and we all know I’m a bit odd.

  7. david- Yeah, yep. You got from this the things that that troubled me, I think.

    I can understand what you’re saying although I’ve never felt that sensitive to the perceived dignity of a group of strangers. That’s admirable.

    I do that on an individual level, try to be careful in my thoughts and respectful of those I know, even if my thoughts are private. It’s kind of an honor thing.

  8. Did you notice that no one seems to be looking at another in this picture? Not even at their eyes? Is it like when you are really attracted to someone and you actively don’t look at them and it is so much more obvious than if you had? What this has to do with your premise I have no idea. It just struck me.

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