Public Speaking Myths

The Five Worst Pieces of Advice for Public Speakers and How to Ignore Them

It’s not as though the job isn’t hard enough. Getting up in front of a roomful of people gathered to hear you speak can stymie even the most accomplished professional.

Making matters worse is the well-meaning but misguided advice on improving your public speaking performance. That bad advice is everywhere and it’s deadly, especially for those speakers on shaky ground to begin with.

Here then are the top five pieces of advice you’ll want to skip when you’re preparing for your next public speaking opportunity–followed by some alternatives.

1. Practice your speech in front of a mirror.
Come on now. Have you ever tried it? Anyone who has knows it’s nearly impossible to focus on your performance and avoid being distracted by your own image.

Instead, try practicing in front of a colleague, friend or coach who can give honest feedback. A videotaped performance can also help (provided you play it enough times to be able to begin to “see” your performance the way others might).

2. Start with a joke.
You may as well start with a dance number. What? Not good at dancing? Well, if you’re not someone who is extraordinarily good at telling jokes, better leave this one alone as well. A joke that falls flat is difficult to recover from, especially if you’re trying to establish credibility.

Instead, try a story, a true anecdote, or an attention-grabbing question or statement to your audience. If you want to start it off on a lighter note, try some self-effacing humor…but leave the canned jokes to the professional comics.

3. At all costs; move.
Sure we in the audience like to see some signs of life up there, but movement without purpose is called PACING. Walk endlessly from one point to another or move with repetitive motions and your audience will begin WISHING for a podium to put you behind.

Instead, try looking for opportunities within the context of what you’re saying to add movement. Got an important point to make? Take a step toward the audience, but vary your physical performance the way you vary the content and practice it the same way: purposefully.

4. Wear bright, eye-catching clothes and accessories.
Your audience is sure to notice that huge broach or bright tie, but after they do, are they listening to anything you have to say?

Instead, make sure your clothes ENHANCE what you say by speaking subtly of your credibility and authority. Don’t let them speak louder than you do, lest they drown out your message.

5. Memorize your speech.
This is as sure-fire a way to give a flat and uninteresting performance as reading your speech to your audience is. That’s because, in truth, most of us aren’t going to memorize an entire speech or presentation well enough to actually ACT IT OUT with dramatic conviction, as if it had flowed naturally from our thoughts. And if you lose your train of thought, finding it again in a memorized speech gets difficult.

Instead, commit your speech or presentation to memory. There’s a difference. Committing your information to memory means you will have practiced it enough times to know it thoroughly, in its essence. It means you know what’s coming so well you can ad-lib or change it, summarize it or reword it on the spot, without losing your train of thought. It will keep you engaged and that means your audience will stay engaged as well.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group, an executive communications training firm providing coaching in presentation and speech skills, media training and crisis communications for clients in the public and private sector. She can be reached

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