One of the reasons I set up Love Public Speaking was to help others overcome their fear of speaking in front of an audience – because back in the day, I used to struggle with it too. One of the key things I’ve learned on this journey is that, often, the way we behave is conditioned by the stories we tell ourselves, or allow others to tell us.
With that in mind, I’d like to debunk three widely held misconceptions around public speaking that might be holding you back…
1. You’re either a “natural” at public speaking, or you’re not
This is the first and most important point to clear up. Public speaking isn’t some kind of ‘innate gift’ handed to some people and not others – it’s a skill that you learn, a muscle that you build, and you get better at it through practice. A lot of practice. It’s true that some people don’t experience nerves in the first place, although according to the stats, that’s only 26% of people – the rest of us need to work at it.
Those who can overcome nerves will find they’re capable of being just as good on stage once the anxiety has gone. Why? Because once you no longer feel nervous, speaking on stage feels just like speaking one-to-one. It’s a revelation! Throw in a few rapport-building techniques and you’ll be on fire. Learn how to overcome nerves in our Public Speaking Essential Skills course.
2. It helps to imagine people naked
Who came up with this one?! What a load of rubbish! If I was ever to do this while I’m trying to deliver a presentation at a conference, I think I would find it seriously distracting. The (misguided) theory behind this is that by ‘stripping’ you audience and trying to see them as ‘just people’, you’ll somehow feel less nervous.
I have never known anyone find this technique useful, so instead of picturing row upon row of attendees in the nude, imagine they’re your friends instead – friends you are trying to help by making the core message of your presentation crystal clear. The only thing that matters is that you use that time on stage to impart as much valuable material to them as you can. Focus on making it worth their while.
3. It’s better to wait till you’re “ready” to do public speaking before you try, otherwise you’ll mess it up
Wrong again! I hate to break it to you, but you will never feel ready. Even as a professional speaker, there will speaking engagements that take you out of your comfort zone. It’s all part of the journey, and the sooner you get started, the better.
The only way to master it is to practise with a live audience, however inexperienced you are. Not in front of a mirror, in front of real people. That means taking up opportunities to speak and embracing those glorious blunders you make along the way! If you’re a natural perfectionist, do your best to try and put those instincts to one side. Start small, like by making a toast at a party, or attending a Toastmasters meeting, give yourself a pat on the back afterwards, and then sign up to do it again. Every time, you’ll get a little bit better until eventually, there will come a day where you think, “I’m pretty good at this”.
If you’d like the opportunity to practise your public speaking skills and learn more about how you can improve your performance in a relaxed, supportive environment, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see how we can help you.
This article was written by Carrie Swift from Love Public Speaking.