11 business presenting and public speaking myths
Public speaking to present your business effectively is a skill that needs to be cultivated at all levels of your organisation. While you have probably been given lots of advice, like Toastmasters International member Anthony Garvey, you may have found some of it helpful and some not so much. Read on for his tips so you can present like a pro.
Let’s look at some of the advice that is not so helpful and debunk some myths. We’ll also look at some pitfalls so you can avoid them when you’re speaking to an audience.
Myth 1: Always begin with a joke
Depending on your audience, a little humour 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 humour is appropriate, by all means, use it, but my advice would be to save it for later in the presentation.
Myth 2: The best speeches are learned 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 by refining and improving, rather than memorising it.
Myth 3: 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 to an investment panel or board of directors?
Many business and personal conversations are presentations, and the more care and attention you give to those conversations, the more professional they will be.
Myth 4: Imagine the audience in their underwear and it’s easier to speak in public
This idea was made popular by a book ‘I can see you naked’, a fearless guide to making great presentations and also featured in an episode of the Brady Bunch in 1974. But unless you are delivering a presentation for Ann Summers, imagining the audience in their underwear is a fruitless exercise. A better use of your brainpower would be to search the audience for friendly faces to focus on, who will encourage and support you while you’re presenting.
Myth 5: Wearing a brand new outfit will help
There is nothing worse than struggling with a new outfit that doesn't quite fit or shoes that pinch while you are presenting. It is, of course, important to dress appropriately, but it is more important to feel comfortable. Outside of business, 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.
Myth 6: The audience will see how nervous I am
Nervousness often isn't visible to others because it's internal. And even if people realise you're nervous, they'll sympathise 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.
Myth 7: 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? 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. This way, you can maintain eye contact, interact with your audience and see their reactions, rather than reading off your notes.
Myth 8: Stand in one place when you speak
A well-meaning gentleman 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.
Myth 9: Don't speak 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 International World Champions of Public Speaking, to guide you on your path.
Myth 10: It takes years to become a good speaker
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. You can also drop into your local Toastmaster club, where you'll have the opportunity to speak in front of an audience in a positive, encouraging environment. The more you practice, the better you'll become.
Myth 11: Great presenters talk 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 performers and presenters you have seen and admire are impressive because they take the time to practice. So I will repeat the message: The more you practice, the better you will get as well!
Anthony Garvey is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation 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 programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management.