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Coaching Professionals Bust 13 Common Public Speaking Myths

Expert Panel, Forbes Coaches Council

Forbes Source:

Public speaking isn’t easy for everyone. Some get the jitters just introducing themselves to an audience, and even experienced speakers may still get butterflies before stepping on stage.

Regardless of how comfortable you are with public speaking, anyone can learn and improve their presentation skills. It helps to follow good advice, but it’s just as important to avoid following bad tips. To help you, we asked the experts at Forbes Coaches Council to share some common public speaking myths that are outdated or false, as well as what you should do instead.

1. ‘Establish Credibility Above All Else.’

We have often heard about the importance of establishing credibility when giving a speech or keynote. It is important. But of greater significance is the need to establish rapport. Your audience wants to know why should they listen to you. By connecting with them and demonstrating you understand them or can relate to them, you are opening their hearts and minds to engage with you and listen to you. - Julianne Cenac, Ph.D., The Leader Channel

2. ‘Open With A Joke.’

Opening your speech with a joke is an outdated way to grab your audience’s attention. It will backfire if you don’t know their sense of humor and could make you appear superficial, even awkward. Capturing and holding your audience’s focus, however, is fundamental to effective public speaking. So instead, open with a short, compelling and authentic story that supports your topic and draws people in. - Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC

3. ‘Be Authentic.’

The word “authenticity” creates a lot of confusion. Many people believe that it means “natural,” “as is” or “go for it.” For me, authenticity means being true to yourself or listening to your inner wisdom. It says nothing about your skills or way of presenting yourself. So when it comes to public speaking, be “authentic,” but also train your speech, write it down, record it and improve it. - Dr. Natalia Wiechowski, Think Natalia

4. ‘Use PowerPoint.’

The fastest way to put people to sleep is your boring set of poorly designed PowerPoint slides. Few people have effective, memorable and well done PowerPoints. I’ve seen too many people blame their staff for misaligned slides or deviate from the purpose of the speech. Skip the slides. Relate to the audience, tell a good story and keep me interested in one key point you want me to remember. - Joanne Markow, GreenMason

5. ‘Avoid Filler Words.’

The “ums” and “ahs” tell an audience that you’re thinking, and people want you to think! It’s good to catch these and reduce them, as any overused term can be a distraction and hurt your presentation. But you’ve got your own repeater—a term or phrase that’s used too much. So sure, minimize the “ums” and “ahs,” but don’t be uptight about it. Better to find your repeater and minimize that. - Evan Weselake, GetPureFocus

6. ‘Audiences That Use Their Devices Aren’t Paying Attention.’

Many speakers feel as though people are not paying attention if they are using their devices. I have found that some people take notes during speeches, research what you are saying or like to multitask. Rather than consuming yourself with whether people are paying attention, ensure you are sharing information that is engaging and encourage your audience to interact with your presentation. - LaKesha Womack, Womack Consulting Group

7. ‘Imagine The Audience Naked.’

Please do not sexualize your audience, as it will likely be a distraction to you. Imagining your audience naked is an outdated and misguided public speaking tip. People, including your audience, fully understand that speaking in public is a common fear for most people. Know that you know stuff, you’re there for a purpose and people are there to learn from you. When you step on stage, be bold. - A. Margot Brisky, ELDA4U, LLC

8. ‘They’re Waiting For You To Mess Up.’

In my experience, both speaking and being in audiences, thinking that everyone is hanging on your every word and waiting for you to screw something up couldn’t be more false. It’s quite the opposite. Most audiences are rooting for you to succeed! And if you think they’re hanging on your every word—enough to notice a minor mispronunciation—you’re flattering yourself. - Elizabeth Pearson, Elizabeth Pearson Executive Coaching

9. ‘Practice Makes Perfect.’

The “practice makes perfect” rule for public speaking falsely assumes that the best speeches are rehearsed and polished to the point of letter-perfect delivery. It’s difficult to fully and authentically engage with your audience when you are in the silo of your head performing by rote, and engagement is more impactful than content. Know your material, but deliver from a place of presence and heart. - Ashley Good, Ashley Good Coaching & Consulting

10. ‘Don’t Look Your Audience In the Eyes.’

Bad advice: “If you’re nervous, then don’t look your audience in the eyes, look at their foreheads/back of the room.” Wrong. Your audience not only wants to hear your content but to be moved, inspired and touched by you. You’ve got to connect with them. There’s no more powerful connection—without touching—than eye contact. Still nervous? Look for the color of their eyes, and keep breathing. - Gregg Ward, The Gregg Ward Group

11. ‘Don’t Talk With Your Hands.’

Keeping your hands together in an open prayer while you speak is common advice given to public speakers. That way your hands won’t distract people as you speak. While that may work on a video or television, using your hands naturally while you speak can actually indicate warmth, authenticity and animation. Keeping your hands clasped together may seem robotic to some audiences and cultures. - Janet Ioli, Janet Ioli International

12. ‘Always Smile.’

Smiling is a great way to connect with an audience. Yet a smile has to be genuine and match the message to be effective. A smile would be inappropriate in delivering bad news. Untimely smiles are perceived as phony or condescending, especially in speaking across cultures. Excessive smiles create an impression of being nervous and undermine authority. A smile has to fit the situation and culture. - Eun Y. Kim, CEO International

13. ‘Your Facts Are Everything.’

Facts don’t move people, emotion moves people. Your audience would rather listen to someone they feel is 100% “real” versus someone who is 100% right. Politics is a great case study for this. Don’t get me wrong. It is important that you fact check your data and know your stuff. But lead with passion. If you don’t believe it in your bones, why should they? Feelings trump facts, every time. - Bryan Rhinehart, Relevant Coaching

Article: ©2019 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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