By Anthony Garvey, Toastmasters International
From time to time I have been given very useful advice on public speaking and presenting and some advice which proved to be not so useful! This article covers the ‘not so useful advice’ and debunks some of the many public speaking myths there are around. I’ll share my thoughts on how to avoid some public speaking and presenting pitfalls and how to improve your performance.
1st Myth: Audiences Will See I’m Nervous
Nervousness often isn’t visible to others because it’s internal. And even if people realize you’re nervous, they’ll sympathize with you. Most audience members are on your side and want you to do well.
Don’t start your presentation with the announcement: “I’m not very good at public speaking.” Keep it to yourself! Nor should you hold a single sheet of paper in your hands. If your hand shakes, then and only then, the audience will see signs of nerves.
2nd Myth: Open With a Joke
Depending on your audience, a little humor in a speech or presentation can work well. But in my experience, starting with a joke is a gamble which seldom pays off. Too often a joke at the start of a speech or presentation falls flat, especially as people are still taking their seats or arriving at the venue and may not have heard it properly. If you feel humor is appropriate, by all means, use it, but my advice would be to save it for later in the presentation.
3rd Myth: Buying a New Outfit Will Help
There is nothing worse than struggling with a new suit that doesn’t quite fit while you are presenting. It is, of course, important to dress appropriately, but it is more important to feel comfortable. Presenting is stressful enough without having to deal with shoes that pinch your feet every step you take. If you have to wear a hire suit at a wedding, for example, spend a little extra time making sure you are comfortable in it before you leave the store.
4th Myth: The Best Speeches Are Memorised Word for Word
It is much better to speak from the heart, rather than deliver a rehearsed speech. Learning a speech word-by-word is dangerous because if you forget a word or a sentence, it can throw the whole speech off course. You still need to practice, but you will be using your time in a much more effective way, refining and improving, rather than memorizing it.
5th Myth: I Don’t Give Speeches or Presentations
What happens when your boss asks for an update on the project you are working on at a meeting? What happens when you present ideas in front of other staff?
Many business and personal conversations are presentations, and the more care and attention you give to those conversations, the more professional they will be.
6th Myth: Using Notes Will Help You Deliver a Better Presentation
How often have you seen a speaker spill their cue cards all over the floor and spend the rest of the speech trying to reorder them? Almost as bad as the speaker who reads word for word from their notes and doesn’t even look up to see the audience reaction. If you must carry notes, write single words to prompt you to speak on a particular topic. Once you start speaking on that topic, put the card down and consult it only when you need to.
7th Myth: Choose a Place to Stand and Stay There
A well-meaning person once gave me some advice: “Next time you speak, plant your feet on a sheet of A4 paper and don’t move for the duration of your talk!” Myth! Unless you are delivering a reading at a religious service, I believe you should move when you talk.
I had a professor at college, who paced up and down during lectures as if he were sponsored by FitBit. Don’t meander all over the stage, like he did, but you shouldn’t have to stand rigidly behind a lectern, like a tortoise inside a shell either. Move, but move with purpose. Watch some of the world’s best speakers, like Les Brown, Zig Ziglar, and Tony Robbins, to see how movement helps them connect.
8th Myth: Great Presenters Speak Off the Cuff
The trick is to appear not to have put in any effort, but every presenter worth their salt, practices, practices, and practices some more. As Oscar winner, Sir Michael Caine said: “Rehearsal is the work; performance is the relaxation.” The polished performers and presenters you have seen, are on top of their game because they have practiced. The more you practice, the better you get!
9th Myth: Don’t Talk With Your Hands
Speakers as still as statues, deliver their presentations with all the poise, charisma and presence of a store mannequin. Dynamic expressive speakers use their hands, so make good use of yours! Open palms, not pointing or clenched fists, are the key.
Watch and learn from the masterful body language of the Toastmasters’ World Champions of Public Speaking, to guide you on your path.
10th Myth: It Can Takes YEARS to Become the Speaker You Want to Be
Replace the word’ YEARS’ in the sentence above with the word ‘PRACTICE’ and you’ll turn a myth into a truth. Take every opportunity you can to speak in public – ace speaker, Darren La Croix calls this “stage time” – whether it’s volunteering to chair meetings at your local charity, presenting at work, or offering to say a few words at a local function. Drop into your local Toastmaster club, where you’ll have the opportunity to speak to an audience in an encouraging, positive environment. By putting in the practice your skill and confidence will flourish, and you’ll become a much better speaker. It is as simple as that!
Anthony Garvey is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organization that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland.
Members follow a structured educational program to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.