10 Public Speaking Myths Busted
Some public speaking myths have been around for years. At first blush, many actually seem helpful. Others, however, are almost foolish. I have no idea how these continue to be perpetuated. Hopefully, this post will help bring all of these myths to an end.
Public Speaking Myth #1
To become an excellent speaker, all you have to do is get more speaking gigs. Of course, the more you speak, the more experience you’ll have. To say that all you have to do is go out and speak more, to me, is akin to saying, hey, if you want to be a champion downhill racer, all you have to do is go out and ski more. Certainly, you have to ski a great deal if you want to become a champion downhill racer, but you also have to know technique — you have to know how to accomplish what it is you’re trying to do. You can’t just go out there and have at it. It just doesn’t work that way. As far as speaking goes, maybe someday you’ll become very good at it — adept at it. You’ll learn to engage your audience. You’ll learn to hold that audience. You’ll learn to be of service to that audience. But that’s going to take an awfully long time. So my suggestion to you is that, while you’re getting those speaking gigs, learn your craft, practice it, determine what best helps you serve them. That puts you on the road to becoming an effective public speaker.
Public Speaking Myth #2
If you get nervous when looking people in the eye, just look over their heads. Bad advice! Think if you were just speaking one person, directly across from you — and yes, that is a form of public speaking — and while you’re speaking to that particular person, you continuously look over their head. How do you think they’re going to feel? What do you think they’re thinking? Do they have confidence in you? Probably not. Are they wondering why you’re not looking them in the eye? Probably so.
It’s the same thing with larger audiences. Five people, 10 people, 25 people, 100 people. If you’re just looking over the audience’s head to the back of the room, they know you’re not engaged with them. And as a result, they won’t be engaged with you. Yes, it takes a lot of practice. Yes, it can be nerve-wracking ’til you get the hang of it. But once you do, ah, what a difference.
When you look people in the eye, they know you’re engaged with them. You can tell if they’re engaged with you. You can tell if they’re attentive, you can tell if they’re thinking you can tell if you’ve lost them. The feedback you get from their eyes and their faces will help you a great deal while you’re presenting. Stick with it. You’ll get there.
Public Speaking Myth #3
Some people are natural-born speakers. Except for a rare few people, I don’t know if anybody is a natural-born anything. Sure, some people definitely have a gift that helped them, but they can’t rely on that. Take a tremendous musician. My favorite is Eric Clapton, a world-class guitarist. He was born with a natural gift, no doubt about it. But he’ll also be the first one to tell you how many hours — thousands of hours over five decades or so — that he has put into honing his craft. He didn’t rely on that natural-born ability because it’s not enough.
So what you may think of people when you look at them and go, wow, they’re a natural-born speaker. You have no idea how many hours they put in behind the scenes. Who they worked with. What they’ve done to make it seem like it’s natural for them. Odds are, it wasn’t. So if you’re comparing your current status to that of someone who looks like a natural-born speaker, do yourself a favor and stop. You’re just where they were a while back. Learn to be an effective speaker and effective presenter, and someday people will be looking at you and saying, wow, she’s a natural-born speaker. And you’ll know the truth.
Public Speaking Myth #4
This is my all-time favorite. If you’re nervous, picture the audience members in their underwear. Who comes up with these things? If I were standing there, trying to picture people in their underwear, I wouldn’t be concentrating on how I’m trying to engage them. I wouldn’t be concentrating on the delivery of my message. I would be trying to picture them in their underwear, and I don’t even know if that’s possible. On top of that, why would you do it? If you ever hear anybody say that to you, just look them in the eye, nod your head politely, and don’t listen.
Public Speaking Myth #5
To be a powerful public speaker, all you need are two things. One is to know what you’re talking about. The other is to have the guts to get up there and say it in front of people. The Japanese have a word for that. Do you know what that word is? Karaoke. And how good is that? Nine times out of 10, and unless the audience has had three beers and a shot, the karaoke is not all that good. So unless you plan on having your audiences have three beers and a shot, you can’t rely on just knowing what you want to talk about, knowing your skill, knowing your job, whatever it might be, and having the guts to get up there and provide the information to people.
Speaking of drinking, that brings us to Public Speaking Myth #6.
It’s a good idea to have a drink or two before delivering a presentation. Really? If that’s what it takes to help you get out there and deliver a presentation, you’ve skipped a lot of steps. Please don’t rely on that. I’ll ask you this. If you were going to have surgery, and your surgeon was a bit nervous, would you want him to have a couple of drinks before operating on you? Learn how you can best present to others. Develop your message. Determine how you can best deliver it. And rehearse, and rehearse, and rehearse. And then go out there and do it. You can do it. You don’t have to rely on alcohol.
Public Speaking Myth #7
You can effectively evaluate your presentation by looking at yourself in a mirror while rehearsing. No, I’m afraid not. You just can’t give 100% of your attention to your words and your delivery and also be critiquing yourself at the same time. It just doesn’t work that way. But that’s okay. You own the greatest tool ever for a public speaker — your phone, more specifically, the video aspect of your phone. Here’s what I tell my clients. Prop up your phone, hit record, deliver your presentation. When you’re done, review … it three times.
The first time, you’re going to play it back, facing down so you can only hear it. Make notes about your voice, inflection, pausing, not pausing, using fillers, things that are distracting, things that went extremely well. Now review it the second time. But this time you’re going to turn the sound off and just watch it. Make notes about your body language. Are you pacing? Are you fidgeting? Are you making faces? Are you not looking out at the audience or in this case the camera? Are you using your hands too much? Not enough? Make those notes, make those adjustments. The third time you review it, watch it and listen to it as you normally would. Again for a third time, make notes. Make the adjustments you need to make. Prop the phone up once again, hit record, deliver it once again. Start the process all over. You will see yourself as others see you. You will be able to graduate your delivery and your capabilities that much more quickly. Try it out. Let me know how it goes.
Public Speaking Myth #8
Winging your presentation helps it look fresh and authentic. Nope, it really doesn’t. It makes it look like you’re winging it. It makes it look like you didn’t give thought to your opening, that you didn’t give thought to that all-important closing, that you didn’t determine how you were going to transition from one point to the next. I call winging it showing up and throwing up. You’re showing up, you’re standing there, and you’re just vomiting information on people with no idea and how to best convey your message and get it in the minds of the people in the audience.
Public Speaking Myth #9
Speaking loudly is obnoxious and overbearing. It really isn’t. Yelling is obnoxious and overbearing. But projecting your voice so others can hear you clearly is a necessity. Anything less than that and you’re making them uncomfortable as they strain. Or, actually, you’ll close them just to no longer to pay attention. You’ll cause them to question your confidence. You’ll lose them. They’ll disengage. Be sure to project your voice, speak from your diaphragm, push a lot of air over your vocal cords. As I tell my clients, make sure you speak 10 feet beyond the person furthest away from you. And it doesn’t matter if they’re older or younger. You have no idea what their hearing capability is. So make sure you go beyond that. It’s not obnoxious. It’s not overbearing. It’s what’s right.
Public Speaking with #10
To be a powerful presenter, you just need to be passionate about your topic. Oh, if that were only the case. We would all be tremendous presenters. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As you’ve heard several times in this podcast, there’s so much more to it than just getting in front of people and talking. No matter how passionate you are, you have to have structure, you have to know what you want to say. I don’t mean just knowing your product, or your service, or whatever, but the particular content that you want to deliver in a particular way that will serve that particular audience. Having a passion for your subject, that’s a great thing. But it’s not the only thing. It may not be the most important thing. But you do want to determine the best way you can connect with your audience, the best way you can take what’s in your head and have them willingly accept it in their heads, the best way you can deliver a call to action, the best way you can change their minds, the best way you can affirm what’s in their minds. Whatever it is you set out to do, determine how to do that in a way that is good for you, but most importantly, good for them.
Well, that’s 10 public speaking myths. And truthfully, there are a whole lot more and maybe in another podcast, we’ll dive into those. In the meantime, be sure to join me next week for more tips, ideas, and techniques that will help you be calm, confident, and credible every time you speak in public. Also, please remember to subscribe, rate, and review The Speaker Station wherever you listen to your favorite podcast.