More and more these days, dogs are showing up in public places to help calm people and reduce anxiety. Therapy dogs are now used in courtrooms, hospitals, clinics and schools to provide a calming influence for children and adults in stressful situations.
Hmmm…reduce stress and anxiety? Help people deal with a scary situation? Let’s remember that the fear of public speaking is people’s number one fear. (We won’t quote the Jerry Seinfeld joke again, but Google “Seinfeld” and “fear” and you’ll find it right away.)
It could be a great idea—dogs helping presenters relax and gain the courage they need to succeed. Could it work?
It turns out that someone already thought of it. At the Kogod School of Business’ Center for Business Communications at American University, they created an “Audience Dogs” program to help students rehearse presentations. A group of select canines, accompanied by “tutors”, are regularly called upon to listen to students as they practice their speeches.
“If we can motivate students to practice with dogs as an audience, students can gain confidence and become talented communicators,” reads a quote on the school’s “Audience Dogs” web page from Caron Martinez, Director of Kogod’s Center for Business Communications.
We found a CBS News clip that describes the Audience Dogs program, which has also received coverage from the New York Times, Washington Post, and, of course, Dogs Today.
Dogs seem like a natural fit to be a practice audience. You can engage dogs and hold their attention though eye contact, volume changes and variation in tone, all good techniques to practice. Some dogs even tilt their heads slightly when spoken to, adjust their eye muscles, smile, or raise their ears when engaged.
If you decide to try it, a few of our favorites—Rufus, Dylan and Olivia (pictured above)—are available by appointment to help out.
Here are a few quick EMS tips on presenting to Audience Dogs:
– Frequently insert words that the dogs know, such as their names, “treat”, “walk”, or anything that rhymes.
– Having treats in-hand is very helpful at keeping dogs interested and engaged, though this technique doesn’t usually work in board rooms.
– Use different sounds to hold their attention, such as barking or whistling. You may notice some audience participation!
So we encourage you to try it—rehearse your next presentation in front of your dogs. Perhaps rehearsing with an audience dog will ease your stress and give your confidence a lift. Just make sure you open with a strong “BOW” statement!