The Art of Speaking  

Busting myths about public speaking

Four public speaking myths

YouTube/Wade Paterson

We’ve all heard various pieces of advice about public speaking, but how many of these tips and tricks are actually myths?

This month, I will debunk four falsehoods about public speaking, and explain why these common beliefs are untrue.

Getting nervous is bad

I’ve focused on improving my public speaking skills for the past decade, and I still get nervous each time I deliver a presentation. I consider that a good thing.

Oddly enough, the few times I haven’t gotten nervous before stepping in front of an audience have typically gone much worse than the times when nerves were present. I recently had a conversation with a public speaker who I admire, and he told me that he gets nervous because he cares.

If you’re able to tweak your mindset to believe nerves are a good thing, it’s going to help give you gain confidence before you step on stage.

As a side note, sometimes there are physical side effects that accompany nerves. Shaky hands, a dry mouth and sweaty palms are all common physical responses to public speaking. After you’ve spoken in front of an audience a few times, you’ll likely identify how your body reacts, and then you can take steps to be prepared for these reactions in the future. (For example: If your mouth gets dry, you can bring water on stage with you. If your hand is shaking, you could avoid carrying a single piece of paper and instead carry something heavier, which will make the shaking seem less obvious.)

You can “wing it”

For some reason we’ve romanticized this idea of getting up in front of an audience with no preparation or practice at all, and delivering an incredible speech.

While it’s true there are some “unicorn” individuals out there who have an ability to wing it, I would argue those people make up less than 5% of the population. I would also argue that everyone (even those who can wing it) would have a better speech if they practiced.

If you think about anyone who has become successful in their line of work, practice is often a common theme. Even the most talented athletes, who have natural abilities, work endlessly on their skills to improve, and we should treat public speaking the same way.

The underwear advice

“Just picture your audience in their underwear.”

I’m not sure where this bad piece of public speaking advice originated from (and ChatGPT wasn’t certain either).

My AI friend suggested it may have come about in the 20th century, along with the rise of self-help and personal development literature that became popular during the 1900s.

Perhaps the idea was introduced to give you psychological power. For example, picturing the audience in a vulnerable situation when you are feeling nervous may somehow restore confidence. But in reality, there are many reasons why this strategy seems like a bad idea.

Beyond the fact it’s creepy, remember you have enough to worry about when you’re standing on stage in front of an audience. Public speakers don’t usually have the capacity to allow their minds to wander and focus on other things. So instead of trying to imagine what your audience might look like in their underwear, you’re much better off to simply practice your speech.

You should write out your full speech

It’s incredibly common for most people to begin the speech planning process by writing out their full speech word-for-word. While it makes sense to write down notes early in the speech planning process, I think you’re better off to plan your speech in general themes rather than writing everything down word-for-word.

When you write out a speech verbatim, it’s tempting to rely heavily on notes when we deliver the speech. The problem with reading words off of a piece of paper is that it usually limits body language and vocal variety.

By planning a speech out in themes or categories, you can use far fewer notes (instead, subtle prompts that will remind you what to say next) and focus on engaging the audience with your body language and vocal variety.

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members here.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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