19 Public Speaking Myths from Coaching Sessions in 2019 Debunked
People might come to me for public speaking tips, but what they really want is reassurance. Reassurance that they can deliver a great talk in ways that work for them, without blindly following what is assumed to be "perfect" speaking behaviour.
Do you have a talk coming up? A presentation you want to deliver with authenticity? Are you intimidated by the gurus' tips? Here are 19 myths about public speaking from coaching sessions throughout this year and my thoughts (based on a decade of speaking to large groups) on why debunking them can reassure you, too:
1. You can’t be nervous!
Of course you can. You are not a robot. You're a human being experiencing emotions. You are allowed to be nervous. In fact, the more OK you are with being nervous, the less nervous you will be. It is said that, to the body, nervousness and excitement feel very similar. Could it be you're secretly more excited than you allow yourself to be?
2. You need to memorise your talk
No. You do not need to learn a script. You want to know your core messages and your overall flow/structure. If you can't summarise what your talk is about in a few words, there's a chance you're overcomplicating things. A simple set of core messages and a general flow will serve as a roadmap when you are presenting. Memorising a talk can be helpful to some people, but it's not a prerequisite for delivering an interesting talk.
3. You need to move the audience
That's an unfair expectation - from yourself and the audience. Your responsibility is to speak from the heart. You cannot control the outcome. What you can control, however, is how you show up. Trust that when you are engaged, your audience will be as well. Engagement, by the way, is a personal experience and everyone expresses emotions in their own way. Sometimes it's those stone-cold faced members of the audience who send you the most heartfelt thank-you emails afterwards.
4. You need a ton of experience
False. I have seen people who were put on the spot to deliver a talk and... it's a masterclass. I'm not denying the value of previous speaking experience. What I am saying is that you need to start at some point and that even your first talk or presentation can be very successful. You don't need a ton of experience, you need a ton of trust.
5. You need a big platform
"Chris, I don't have a book, I am not special, I'm not a public figure." Sure, many big names in the arena are famous. Some are brilliant speakers, some are OK, and many are pretty weak. Just because someone is famous doesn't mean they excel at giving talks. Use what you've got: YOU. You bring your experience, expertise, story, but also your energy and your spirit. That's your platform. And it's unique. It's the best USP you can have.
6. You need a team
Unless you're thinking of becoming a professional speaker, don't concern yourself too much with the fancy stuff. Yes, logistical support is useful, but you can achieve a lot by yourself. I suggest you focus more on your emotional support network. Can you casually rehearse your talk with a peer, friend or family member? That's the honest feedback team you want to have around.
7. You are responsible for event success
That's probably the number one anxiety-inducing misconception many aspiring and even seasoned speakers have. I believe it's admirable that you care that much about doing a perfect job, but that's also where I would like you to draw the line. You are not responsible for event success. You are responsible for your commitment to doing a great job. Let me ask you: Do you think it's fair to carry the entire weight of an event on your shoulders? And is it helpful, to you or the organisers? Probably not. The success of an event is a shared responsibility. Focus on your part.
8. You need a powerful opening line
All too often, this is precisely what sets the tone for a robotic talk. It makes the speaker sound scripted and the audience roll their eyes. Unless you can deliver your opening line/question with total conviction, you will feel a lot more at ease starting your presentation in a natural manner. You don't need to make a diva entrance to draw in your audience. In fact, doing the opposite might be a welcome relief for everyone in the room - including you. Understatement can be very effective at the start of a presentation. It allows you to build the excitement as you progress and the audience's attention grows rather than fades. So, there's no need to "break the ice." Shine, and the ice will melt.
9. You need to stick to your time slot
The priority is to ensure you can get all your key messages across. Less is usually more when it comes to public speaking. I'd say aim to create a talk that's 5 minutes less than your allocated time slot. If you finish sooner, that's cool. Nothing is more stressful -for you and for your audience- than a rushed talk due to time constraints.
10. You need a slide deck
Unless you need to communicate huge amounts of data, graphs or visuals, you don't need a slide deck. If you do opt for slides, consider using holding slides. They support your message with a simple word or image, but don't interfere with your delivery of that message. In any case, always ensure you can explain the message without any slides. That's a helpful measure to gauge your understanding of the content. The better you become at that, the more you'll realise the slides behind you really don't matter all that much.
11. You need a fancy stage
What you need is self-belief. And your authentic voice. You also need your topic experience and expertise. The majority of your audience don't attend because of the flashy (and usually overpowering) stage, they want to hear a speaker who can deliver an engaging talk with grace. And like other effective speakers, you can deliver that talk in any decor. Remember, your message is the stage.
12. You need to look amazing
See 11. What is amazing anyway?
13. You need gimmicks
Re-read 11. Your inner light is the greatest light show.
14. You mustn’t have a panic attack
And so what if you did? Will the event organiser send you to jail? Of course not. So escape the prison of your fear-based thinking and hear this: If you do get a "wobble," or even the dreaded fight-or-flight response, slow down, realise that this always feels a lot worse than it looks (the audience usually never even notice!) and gently carry on. The more OK you can be with the (very temporary) feeling, the sooner it will ease off. I promise.
15. You can’t say “um”
You can. Some really well-known speakers do. Just watch some of the top TED talks. Ums and ers are abundant - and often effective. However, if you do find yourself using gap fillers more than you like, I suggest slowing down when you talk.
16. You need to cover the whole stage
There are speakers who frantically pace up and down the stage and fail to engage their audience. Then there are speakers who speak from a wheelchair and captivate an entire sports arena. The key is to make sure that you feel comfortable about your positioning on stage. That can mean staying in one spot or moving around, presenting from different parts of the stage. The more comfortably positioned you are, the more comfortable your interaction with your audience will be.
17. You need to surpass your peers
It's a cheesy cliché, but the sun and the moon don't compete with each other, they shine in their own time. If you're worried about having to be better than fellow presenters there's a good chance you've lost sight of what matters most: The relationship between you and your audience. Focus on your own message(s) and shine from the heart. You do not need to surpass your peers, but you do want to surpass that idea.
18. You need to be entertaining
...But you don't need to be Cirque Du Soleil. Strike a balance between jokes, anecdotes and gestures that works for you. Different talks serve different purposes, so stop performing and start connecting. Let your story and your passion do the entertaining. Musicians who have spent huge amounts of money on the elaborate production of a song often really tug at the heartstrings of their audience when they perform that song acoustically instead. Calm is a super power, and particularly effective when you're presenting.
19. You need a good night’s sleep
Rest assured (pun intended) that you can still deliver the talk of your life even if you've had very little sleep. Your physiology changes when you're in your zone, so trust that you'll have enough energy for your talk the next day. Remembering this will make it easier to fall asleep. You could also tell yourself that you can sleep as much as you like after your successful talk, making it something to look forward to as a well-deserved reward.
I believe that the world needs people who show up authentically and speak from the heart - more than ever before. Your message may well transform or even save someone's life. It's time to let go of all the (self-imposed) expectations around giving that illusive perfect presentation. By lowering the threshold for your audience to connect with you, you will raise the effectiveness of your talk.
Let's continue the conversation: www.ChristophSpiessens.com
I help conscious organisations improve employee engagement, leadership, sales & customer service with inspirational talks, training and coaching initiatives. I'm also the host of the Mindful Manager seminars. My book, "Life of a Lifetime" is published by Business Expert Press, NY.
Upcoming event: An Afternoon of Calm, Manchester 23 November 2019