No matter how polished you are as a speaker or how confident you might be getting up in front of a group to present, everyone has theories on why they are not the best they can be or why they have an aversion to public speaking. In fact, most of the explanations typically offered up are actually rooted in myths that have been perpetuated over time. Because public speaking is the number one fear people face, there has been ample time devoted to developing the theories to support this ubiquitous anxiety.
We've lined up some of the top myths we hear and offer an alternative approach to hopefully help alleviate some of the fear so many face.
MYTH #1 - The Natural Born Presenter
How many times have you been at a conference or watched someone give a talk and say to yourself “this person was born to do this”? The truth is that great presenters aren’t born, they are made. The attributes that you might observe come from practicing the mechanics of the skillset. There are specific techniques that need to be refined in order to give the impression that they have innate skills or have mastered the art of public speaking.
MYTH #2 – “I Simply Can’t Do That”
So often, people who are asked to present or speak in front of others state that they simply cannot. Either they believe they are too shy or they think they are just not good at it. Truthfully, everyone can AND already does present. And they do it every time they interact with another human being. The real question is not whether you can do it but whether you are doing it withintention. Whether it’s in your job, at the breakfast table, at school or at a social event, when you are speaking with others, you are public speaking. And the great news is that this means you have lots of opportunity to practice! When training speakers, we tell them their first opportunity to put what they learned into practice is to try it out on their families. They are usually a captive audience and tend to be very forgiving. Plus, you know them well and how they typically react to you which provides you with critical insights into how you are doing.
MYTH #3 - The Material Should Speak for Itself
When conducting presentation skills training sessions, we often hear from participants about the power of the content. In fact, most people are first focused on the need to master their knowledge or memorization of the content. The belief is that the content and your mastery of it is what you gives you credibility in front of an audience. In fact, when delivering a presentation, many speakers will often move to the side, far enough out of the way of the screen to showcase the slides. Sometimes, they will even stand at the back of the room with a slide advancer only to be heard and never seen. In truth, if all we needed was to have awesome content, then everyone would be great presenters. Let’s face it, we have never met a passionate slide in our lives. No offense to those of us who work hard to create compelling content but, as humans, we don’t “connect” with PowerPoint slides, we are engaged during a presentation because of the speakers who can bring the content to life and put context to the discussion.
MYTH #4 - I Can/Should Memorize My Presentation
It’s not uncommon for less experienced presenters to try to memorize, word-for-word, their presentations. And, while some many come really close, it really is an impossibility. Similar to the myth that content is king, it is not necessary nor really possible to memorize what it is you are going to say during a presentation. The reality is that when presenting, regardless of what we rehearsed, we never say what we think. Our minds are perfect at creating visions of how we would deal with any particular situation, even our worst case scenarios. But, our minds process nearly five times faster than we can speak. That leaves us with a lot of information to fit through a very small and narrow funnel. Better than trying to memorize content, we need to practice our presentations out loud. And, while it doesn’t have to be in front of a mirror, it is helpful to watch your gestures or facial expressions.
MYTH #5 – More is Better
How many times have you sat through a presentation when the speaker felt obliged to share every single word that appears on the PowerPoint slide? We call this showing up and throwing up! Some speakers have a very common urge to dump all their knowledge on the audience in order to offer a comprehensive and thorough presentation. What actually happens in these situations is that the speaker has provided far more information to the audience than they desired or needed and they have likely disengaged because they can just read the slides and tune out the presenter. In truth, every detail isn’t important to every person. The best presenters deliver their message or key takeaways in as little as five sentences per slide! As an audience we expect the presenter to deliver the information they know to be of most importance to us. So, offering a succinct message that highlights the key points keeps the audience engaged and allows more time to interact with them. A well-delivered key message in a short and succinct manner creates an opportunity to have a conversation with the audience keeping them alert and interested.