There are many myths about what constitutes good leadership communication. I love busting the unhelpful myths and coaching to audience-centered, concise, and compelling speaking.
One of the most frequently asked questions from my workshop participants is how to eradicate filler words (ah’s, ums, like, you know, etc.). They think that the hallmark of good public speaking is the total absence of filler words. Wrong.
Even professional speakers utter a few fillers from time to time, and that makes their speech more human and authentic. The ideal word-filler scorecard is a myth. Effective public speaking is more about having a solid message that “scratches the itch” of an audience than perfect mechanics.
Here’s a close look at nine more of the most common myths about speaking and presenting:
1. Visualize your audience naked to calm your nerves.
This is an old maxim that doesn’t work. It’s disrespectful to your audience and distracting to you. You’re in service to your audience, presenting ideas that will bring joy and make their lives better. Hold them in esteem because they will determine if you succeed or fail.
2. Public speaking is the number one fear of human beings.
Fear of public speaking or stage fright is the most common phobia ahead of death, insects, or heights, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.I resist believing that people prefer to die than speak in public, yet the data shows that half of the population experience an audience as a threatening predator. Go figure.
3. Professional speakers have overcome stage fright.
Anyone who tells you they don’t get nervous when they perform is lying and shouldn’t be trusted. Being nervous is being alive. Being nervous shows that you care about what you’re about to do. Butterflies in the stomach boost adrenaline in your system, which makes you more alert and energetic.
4. Great speakers are born that way.
Public speaking is a learnable skill which can be achieved through commitment, hard work, and determination. People may think that because they can talk, they can communicate effectively, too. Someone born with “the gift of gab” may not make for a good communicator. Interpersonal and professional communication requires study, practice, and a keen understanding of what your audience needs and wants from you.
5. Dull topics make for boring presentations.
Dull speakers make for boring presentations. There are no bad speeches, just bad speakers. Communications expert Nancy Duarte says you should never create a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through. A presentation is your commitment to help the audience do, learn, and believe in something. If you love your topic, respect your audience and bring your genuine self to the stage, you can make the most mundane topic memorable. Consider the TED talk about how to tie your shoelaces that has more than eight million views.
6. You should never memorize your speech.
Memorization is for scripted entertainment such as theater, TV, or movies, not recommended for business presentations. It’s wise to lock in the opening and closing lines in your brain, but everything in between should be internalized messages based on an intimate knowledge of your topic and tons of practice. There are many techniques like mind mapping which provide a graphic roadmap of the flow of your talk. On the other hand, avoid reading verbatim from a prepared script. Use bullet points instead.
7. Standing with crossed arms displays your confidence.
There are volumes to say about body language. But let’s explore this common pose that you see repeatedly on conference stages, and in corporate portrait photography (think doctors, realtors, and attorneys). Arms folded or in your pockets means you are feeling anxious, tense, insecure, or afraid. A closed body position signals a closed mind and creates a physical barrier between speaker and listener.
8. Make eye contact with people in the back row.
In front of a live audience, we’re accustomed to looking at the faces of people closest to us to establish rapport and read their reactions. This is OK but excludes everyone else in the room. As you speak, scan the back row and make eye contact with people randomly. Switch your gaze periodically to different parts of the room and make a visual sweep of the audience, even if they are too far away to see their faces clearly.
9. Great presentations require dazzling visuals.
Substance trumps technique. Even the best professionally designed slides and video don’t hold up if the presenter doesn’t have their act together with a clear message tailored to that audience. Have you ever attended a fancy presentation that was entertaining but left you wondering what all the fuss was about? Great speeches and presentations are never made on showmanship alone.