There is no shortage of advice about public speaking out there. That also means, unfortunately, that there is no shortage of bad advice about public speaking out there. Here we take a closer look at five public speaking myths that keep coming up, over and over and over again.
By Olivia MacDonnell, Confident Speak
We’ve all been given advice when it comes to confident public speaking.
Whether it’s speaking in front of an audience of a thousand, the best man speech at a wedding, or your weekly update with your staff, it all involves being articulate and clear in front of one or more people.
And many of us will try anything to not feel panicked and freaked out while we do it.
There is all kinds of advice out there about how to feel less nervous or how to remember all your content.
But mixed in there along with the sound advice that really works, there are also a few public speaking myths that need to be challenged.
Let’s have a peek at some of the more common myths that seem, at first sight, to make sense but in reality just might be holding you back from becoming a clear, confident, effective speaker.
Public Speaking Myths, #1: Professional Public Speakers Never Get Nervous
The American writer Mark Twain once said,
There are two types of speakers – those that get nervous and those that are liars.
He definitely hits the nail on the head with that one.
Everyone gets a bump of energy before they step up to speak in front of a group of people and we commonly associate that surge of energy as nerves.
We feel a heightened energy before we speak publicly because it means we care about what we’re about to do. That’s a good thing. The trick is harnessing that energy to create a more powerful speech.
That feeling of anxiety or nervousness never really goes away, no matter how many years of experience we clock up speaking in public.
Even the most seasoned veterans like Richard Branson still get the jitters before a gig.
Takeaway: Here are a few ways to avoid the serious nerves are:
- Make sure you’re prepared and practiced
- Take a few deep breaths before you go on
- And remember you’re there to be as generous as you can with what you have to give!
Public Speak Myths, #2: If You Make a Mistake, You’ll Look Stupid
There isn’t a human being on the planet who hasn’t made a mistake or stumbled in a speech.
It’s just par for the course when it comes to live communication and the issue actually isn’t if something will go wrong, but when something will go wrong. It happens to everyone at some point and the trick is how you handle it.
The truth of the matter is that only you know the content of your presentation or speech; the audience doesn’t have a clue. So if you miss a section of content or skip over a slide, don’t panic. The audience is with you. If your laptop goes down, they’ll be thinking, “Oh, man, that happened to me once!” and they will empathize with you. They want you to be brilliant.
Takeaway: If you feel like you’re floundering, or you’ve lost your place, either recap what you’ve just said, or stop for a dramatic pause. Both of these will give you time to remember and jog your memory as to the next point of content.
Public Speaking Myths, #3: Introverts Make Bad Public Speakers
Some of the best speakers I’ve ever heard are self-professed ‘introverts’ and have spoken honestly and with a lot of vulnerability.
It’s not about being over-the-top or flashy. Being a memorable and effective speaker is about giving people a bit of what makes you, well, you.
Maybe you incorporate your own brand of humour into your content or explain complex data in a clear and colourful way.
Takeaway: Whatever your style, the important thing is to make it your style while connecting with the audience in a meaningful and authentic way. Everyone will have their own way of doing this, introverts included.
(If you’re an introvert, check out this powerful TED talk on introverts from Susan Cain.)
Public Speaking Myths, #4: The Lectern Is Your Friend
I wouldn’t say the lectern is your enemy, but it definitely is not necessarily your friend.
What happens if you choose to stand behind a piece of furniture? Exactly! You’re creating an obstacle between you and the audience.
So be brave.
Step out from behind the furniture and own your space.
You look much more powerful and confident if you command the stage and open yourself up to connecting with the audience.
When you are free to move around, you have physical tools like your body posture and movement at your service. You will lose that if you’re behind a lectern.
When you can, choose freedom of movement so you can connect more fully with your audience. The lectern will not protect you from the audience; in fact, audiences just know when someone is hiding.
Takeaway: Audiences love courageous, open people who make themselves available to connect with them in an immediate and genuine way. You do exactly that by stepping out from behind the lectern and owning the space.
Public Speaking Myths, #5: You Have To Be Funny To Give A Good Speech
You absolutely do not have to incorporate humour in your speech in order to be memorable. Humour is only one tool to add colour or ‘stickiness’ to your content.
There are lots of other tools you can use—tools like anecdotes, stories, props, images, music, your voice and body movement, or exclusive information to catch and keep the audience’s attention
Yes, there’s no doubt that humour can be a wonderful tool to break the ice and create a common ground between you and the audience.
But you don’t have to be a stand-up comic to get people to laugh with you.
Takeaway: The things we actually find most funny are those that are true. Speak from your truth and you’ll be heading in the right direction. If you do want to use it, try it out on a few people beforehand, and see what kind of humour suits you best.
If you don’t believe everyone gets nervous or makes mistakes, or that quiet people can’t be great speakers, have a look around.
I guarantee you’ll find that pretty much all of the public speaking myths above can be debunked at closer glance.
Have a go at humour (before you step in front of that high stakes audience), own your space, step onto any public platform with the willingness to be there and be present. Most of these things are a matter of practice.
But just have a go. I can pretty much promise you’ll live to tell the tale and fight another day!
ConfidentSpeak is a Voice and Communications consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland.
We offer a range of voice and communications programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals. Our packages are tailored for both individual and corporate level. We work with leading Irish and international companies and executives.
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ConfidentSpeak is a specialist S.T.E.M Communications & Coaching Consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland. We work with leading Irish and international companies and executives at home and abroad. Contact us for details on our range of corporate/private programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals.