A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from February 22, 2015
“Imagine the audience naked” (theatre saying)

"Imagine the audience naked” (or “imagine the audience in their underwear") is advice that some people give to someone who is scared on the stage, such as a frightened actor or public speaker. “"Art Linkletter visualizes members of his audience in their underwear” was cited in 1958. “Tom’s (Tom Chance, president of the 30-member CBC Toastmasters Club—ed.) smile recipe: ‘Just imagine your audience sitting in their underwear’” was cited in 1974. Supposedly, it’s comforting if the audience is visualized as naked rather than the performer.

Not everyone agrees with this piece of advice. “My feeling is that it can actually make you more uncomfortable because it distracts you from important things like remembering your speech” was cited in a 2009 blog.


TV Tropes
Imagine the Audience Naked
(...)
Basically a Stock Phrase, “If you’re nervous, imagine the audience naked.” A common variation of this is “Imagine the audience in their underwear.” This trope is usually played with. Sometimes the viewers at home are shown what the character sees, usually in the underwear variety unless there’s some handy scenery - sometimes they will wish they couldn’t. Sometimes, there really will be someone naked or in their underwear.

17 June 1958, Evening Times (Cumberland, MD), “Bob Crosby Tells How To Be Calm” by Phyllis Battelle, pg. 4, col. 3:
“Art Linkletter visualizes members of his audience in their underwear. This could unnerve lesser m.c.’s, but it helps him.”
(Spoken by Bob Crosby, the guest host of Perry Como’s television show.—ed.)

15 February 1974, The Press-Courier (Oxnard, CA), “Burnt Toast” by Mike Bird, pg. 13, col. 1:
Tom’s (Tom Chance, president of the 30-member CBC Toastmasters Club—ed.) smile recipe: “Just imagine your audience sitting in their underwear.”

28 April 1978, Albert Lea (MN) Tribune, “Choices” by Karen Blaker, Ph.D., pg. 5, col. 6:
COUNSELOR: What do you think would happen if you imagined the whole audience in their underwear when you get up to speak tomorrow morning?
MR T: It might just work. It would certainly remind me that they all are human.

Google Books
Employment Guide for Engineers and Scientists
By R. J. Backe (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)
New York, NY: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
1983
Pg. 81:
If you are from one school of thought, you will envision your audience in their underwear before opening your mouth — and if it really works — use it.

19 August 1983, Hyde Park Herald (Chicago, IL), “Hyde Parkers, All!” by Sam Lesner, pg. 39, col. 3:
He (Tim Goodsell, president of the Hyde Park Bank & Trust Company—ed.) said: “How does a speaker overcome his nervousness? Well, he imagines everybody in the audience in their underwear.”

Google Books
The Omega Command
By Jon Land
New York, NY: Ballantine
1986
Pg. 35:
“I had a public speaking teacher once who said to avoid nervousness when giving an important speech, just picture your audience naked.”

Google Books
I Can See You Naked
By Ron Hoff
Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing
1992
Pg. IX:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always thought that the old idea of visualizing an audience naked, as a way to control nervousness, was a funny sort of notion. It just struck me funny.

I mean, it’s not one of those ideas that flits in and out of your mind. it sticks. And it asks for some kind of response.

Google Books
I See What You Mean:
Persuasive Business Communication

By D. Joel Whalen
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications
1996
Pg. 228:
We will avoid coaching you on “appropriate gestures” and “eye contact” or “picturing your audience naked.”

OCLC WorldCat record
The Question Authority - Don’t picture the audience naked, and other public-speaking wisdom.
Author: Julie Schlosser
Publisher: [New York, NY, etc., Time, inc., etc.]
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication: Fortune. 146, no. 11, (2002): 46
Database: ArticleFirst

JVF.com
24 January 2009
Public Speaking Myths: Imagining Your Audience in their Underwear Makes You Less Nervous.
Posted by: James Feudo in Public Speaking
(...)
I’m not sure where this idea initially came from, but it was made popular in an episode of the Brady Bunch called “The Driver’s Seat” which originally aired on January 11th, 1974. In this episode Jan, the middle girl, is nervous about giving a speech as part of a debating contest. Her family gives her the advice of imagining her audience in their underwear and that seems to work for her. But does it really work?

I get asked about this in nearly every public speaking class I teach. My feeling is that it can actually make you more uncomfortable because it distracts you from important things like remembering your speech. Not to mention that it can have some embarrassing side effects depending on your state of mind and who is in your audience.

PopCrush
Neil Patrick Harris’ Best and Most Questionable Moments at the 2015 Oscars
by Ali Szubiak February 23, 2015 2:56 AM
(...)
And that moment was reminiscent of the old adage (that has never worked, will never work and needs to be permanently erased from the vernacular entirely) intended to calm someone’s nerves, “Picture the audience in their underwear.” That vulnerability, scripted though it may have been, was one of Neil’s shining moments of the evening.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • Sunday, February 22, 2015 • Permalink