Research help: Where does “see them naked” come from?

by Scott | 7/29/2009

Part of the fun of researching a book is discovering all the weird things I thought were true that have no substance whatsoever. The advice to imagine people naked when giving a presentation is one of them.

The problem is I can’t find the source of who first suggested we do this.    Even though most books on public speaking mention it at some point, not a single book I’ve read offers a source.

Even Ron Hoff’s good book I can see you naked debunks the advice, but doesn’t offer a source – he claims its advice that had been around long before him.

What I’ve done so far:

  • I asked Toastmaster HQ and they didn’t know
  • Various google/internet searches
  • It hasn’t been referenced in 50+ books I’ve read
  • None of the presentation experts I’ve asked had an answer

If anyone can dig up a reference, or even a source older than Hoff, definitely let me know.

8 Responses to “Research help: Where does “see them naked” come from?”

  1. Steve Says:

    My memory is really fuzzy on this one, but the earliest reference I know wasn’t related to public speaking. It was (I think) on the Brady Bunch, when Marcia was nervous about her driving test, and Mike advised her to imagine the instructor naked.

    Actually found that a blurb about it here: , so maybe you’ve already come across it…

  2. Scott Says:

    Whoa – hadn’t seen that tvtropes list. Cool! Doesn’t answer my question but was cool to see :)

  3. Bart Gragg | Says:

    While you are researching these mystical myths, where does the idea that “Public Speaking is scarier that Death” come from?

    As one who has faced both several times, I will talk my way onto and off of any stage to avoid that feeling I get when facing death.

  4. Scott Says:

    Hi Bart: That one comes mostly from the book of Lists. The 1977 edition listed fears pulled from surveying Americans and fear of speaking to groups came out on top.

    There are other studies that report speaking as a top fear, but most references suggest it’s the 1977 Book of lists.

  5. Richard Garber Says:


    Seeing the audience naked has been attributed to Winston Churchill. Three references from a Google Book Search are as follows. There are more with snippet views not showing all the words.

    Dorothy Sarnoff, Speech Can Change Your Life, 1970, page 199: “Winston Churchill overcame his early fear of audiences by imagining that each of them was sitting there naked.”

    Dorothy Leeds, Power Speak, 1991?, page 33, “Winston Churchill liked to imagine that each member of the audience was naked.”

    G. Michael Campbell, Bulletproof Presentations, 2008, page 109: “Winston Churchill is said to have controlled his nervousness before a speech by imagining his audience naked.”

    Richard Garber

  6. Heather James Says:

    I bet it’s as old as the emperor’s new clothes. The notion that nudity is disarming is certainly even older.

  7. Richard Garber Says:


    If you want a more definitive answer about whether Churchill said to imagine your audience naked, try contacting James C. Humes. He wrote a public speaking book (Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln) and also edited a book of Churchill quotations (The Wit & Wisdom of Winston Churchill). However, I couldn’t find anything in his quotations book about naked audiences.

    Also, I couldn’t find a mention of naked audiences in Churchill By Himself (the definitive collection of quotations) edited by Richard Langworth.

    Whether Churchill said it or not still is a much narrower question than who said it. Ask the Churchill mavens!


  8. Richard Garber Says:

    On page 17 of his book The Sir Winston Method (the five secrets of speaking the language of leadership) James C. Humes say that:

    “By the way, Churchill, as a psychological antidote, used to look out at his audience and imagine they were all naked.”

    He doesn’t say where he got the information about Winston mentioned in that 1991 book, but I’ll bet he can tell you.

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