5 minute read.
Compiled from a number of sources I’ve seen out there on the Internet, and also what I have experienced as a public speaker myself, here are what I consider to be the common public speaking myths and/or fears.
If you have ever had any experience with public speaking, whether it’s a business presentation, a toast at a wedding, addressing a civic group or council, or just giving a book report at school, see if any of these hit home for you.
They sure do resonate with me! Let’s begin.
Fear #1: The audience hates me.
This is largely a myth. Unless you did something to really piss them off, like call their favorite pro football quarterback a sissy, then I highly doubt they hate you. Besides, what would they hate you for if you haven’t even done anything yet?
Most of the time, the audience wants you to succeed. Sometimes you may have one or two people in the front row who are frowning, but it’s important not to take this too personally.
And if someone asks you a hostile question during Q&A, first acknowledge and clarify the question, then respectfully state your answer or opinion. Remember that some people are just simply more blunt than others, or they may appear more abrupt or unfriendly than they really mean to be.
Now, there are a couple exceptions to the rule. If you are talking about politics or religion, you may get some people who are really charged up about what you say. It all depends on your beliefs and their beliefs. Sometimes they are diametrically opposed.
You may say something that goes completely against what they think, and they might be very candid on their viewpoint and choice of words in response. But if the topic is fairly safe, then don’t let a few sour faces get to you. They probably don’t “hate” you. Try to relate to them and appeal to their interests.
Fear #2: My PowerPoint or computer will crash.
Yes, there’s a chance it may crash. Not a good chance, but a slight chance. It all depends on your equipment. PowerPoint is not always reliable, and neither are computers or projectors. Machines eventually fail.
But all hope is not lost. It is extremely important to have a backup plan. Be prepared with extra handouts, visual aids, slides, notes, extra projector bulb, computer battery, power cord, microphone, etc. In other words, always have something to talk about until your session time ends!
Computers are cheap enough now that it is fairly cost effective to have a backup workstation if needed, especially if you are scheduled for a big event. Usually, you will have an audio/visual person on hand who will be prepared with backup equipment, if it’s a rather large event.
But if it’s just you and a small group, and you always plan for equipment failure, the audience will be impressed with your ability to recover gracefully, and appreciate that you keep the presentation moving despite technical difficulties.
Fear #3: I have nothing interesting to say, and the audience will be bored by my presentation.
First of all, remember that you have a right to be heard. Using your voice to share something important with the world is one of the most powerful and amazing tools you have. Most people don’t know that, or don’t believe it. If you chose to be up in front of an audience to say something, then it must be pretty important to share, otherwise why bother?
To make your presentation as interesting as possible, it is absolutely critical that you choose a topic that 1) you know a lot about, and 2) excites you! If you’re excited about the topic, it will show with your liveliness, and your audience will be much more likely to stay engaged with your talk. It will also greatly increase your chances of not forgetting what to say. Who doesn’t love talking about topics they’re passionate about?
Work on both verbal and nonverbal strategies for engagement, such as eye contact, vocal variety, smiling, gestures, and movement. Share examples and tell stories that are relevant and meaningful to your specific audience. The more you can relate to the audience, the more they will listen and stay engaged.
Fear #4: I’ll forget everything that I wanted to say.
Practice Practice Practice! It’s been said that practice doesn’t necessarily make things perfect, but it does make them permanent (in your memory). With lots of practice, you’ll at least remember the general theme of what you want to say! Maybe not every word, but that’s okay.
You should not be trying to pull out specific words you may have rehearsed just because you think it will impress your audience. Your audience doesn’t know if you skip specific words or miss something that you planned to say.
Also, use key word outlines to keep you on track. Don’t write out your whole speech and then try to stick to a script! That just causes more anxiety. If you get stuck, don’t panic. Instead, stop, take a deep breathe, look briefly at your notes, and get back on track.
Fear #5: I’ll run out of time or I’ll finish way too early.
Practice with a stopwatch. Do this often enough that you get a sense of timing, but don’t worry about hitting a specific rigid deadline. Instead, shoot for a time range, and make it flexible with about 30 seconds to play with.
I’ve had many speeches where there was too much content or not enough, and I didn’t know it until I timed myself. Then I adjusted by adding more content or removing some content.
It also helps to have a clock with you during your speech and note to yourself specific places in your speech where you will check the clock to see how you’re doing. You can also rehearse how you would cut down your speech if you find yourself running low on time.
Knowing this will reduce your anxiety. If you finish early, you can always open the floor and answer questions or share an extra anecdote or example.
Fear #6: People can’t understand me because I talk too quickly or too softly when I’m nervous.
You’re right. Speaking too quickly or softly makes it hard for your audience to understand you. Deep breathing is critical before you take the stage. This is both for minimizing anxiety and supporting a clear, loud voice. Practice speaking to the back of the room and picture your voice as a powerful bullhorn that you aim at all corners of the room.
Consciously insert pauses where appropriate to break up the rate, and remember to breathe. Make notations to do this in your speech notes. Remember that silence is a powerful rhetorical tool that benefits you as well as your listeners, because it gives you a moment to regain your composure, and it gives them time to digest something important you want to emphasize.
Fear #7: I will say the wrong word, forget a section of my speech, or do something embarrassing.
If you use note cards, number them so they’ll be easy to put back in order if you drop them. (Don’t drop them!) Wear clothes and shoes in which you feel comfortable, and eliminate distractions like jingly jewelry, keys in your pockets, click pens, or baggy/flowing clothes. Anticipate possible disruptions and do what you can to prevent them.
If you do something embarrassing, like tripping on stage, use some self-deprecating humor to smooth it over. Make light of it by turning it into a joke with a comment such as “I don’t trip, I do random gravity checks. That’s my OCD showing through.” or “It takes skill to trip over completely flat surfaces. I got game.”. This will lighten the mood and warm up the audience.
Remember, no presentation is ever perfect, and no one is expecting you to be perfect! Concentrate on being excellent, not perfect. Let your voice be heard in your own words, on your own terms, and in your own way.
By the way, picturing people in their underwear doesn’t work. When I do that, I am either really grossed out or horny as hell. I don’t need either of those distractions getting in the way when I am speaking in public.
Relax, have fun, and knock ’em dead! As always, I’d love to hear your views and/or personal experiences with any of this type of stuff. Please share your story in the comments.
Photo Credits and References:
http://www.drscottlewis.com (Cover Photo)
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