5 Myths about Public Speaking

Delia Lloyd

Public speaking is a critical skill in the 21st-century workplace. And yet many people list public speaking as their top fear, second only to death. That fear can be particularly damaging for women, who often suffer from “Fear of Public Speaking” (FOPS) syndrome.

But a lot of that fear is misplaced. And that’s because most people misunderstand the most effective way to make a presentation, whether it’s to an interview panel, their boss, or a large crowd.

Here are five myths about public speaking that you need to let go of if you wish to come across as relaxed and confident when you speak:

  1. Look at the audience the entire time – “Maintain eye contact with your audience!” Oh, how we all remember our teachers shouting this at us from the sidelines throughout primary and secondary school. But it’s simply not true. There’s one – and only one -time you need to fix your gaze on the audience. And that’s when you want your idea to land. The rest of the time you are free to consult notes, scripts or slides.
  2. Reading from scripts is dull – We’ve all been at the deadly conference speech where the speaker looks down and reads from her carefully prepared script for 20 minutes. By the time she’s done, we’re all asleep in our chairs. Most of us tend to blame the script as the source of this boredom. But the problem is usually in the delivery. If you know how to read from a script – inserting plenty of pauses and looking at the audience during crucial moments of impact – script reading can be just as engaging as speaking off the cuff.
  3. You need to memorise your speech – In this era of the Ted Talk, it’s tempting to believe that you need to know every single word of your speech before you stand up to deliver it. Wrong. While memorising your speech may give you a confident, unstudied air, you also dramatically increase your chances of messing up. This might be going off on a tangent, forgetting to insert a key point, or losing your place. Particularly for those who suffer from public speaking anxiety, we strongly advise against trying to memorise. Don’t force yourself to do something that’s risky and stressful. It’s not necessary.
  4. You need to be letter perfect in your delivery – Closely related to the myth that you need to memorise your talk is the myth that you need to deliver it flawlessly. We tend to believe there is some ideal “presentational mode” we’re meant to enter into when we stand up to speak, one characterised by perfect grammar, complete sentences and pauses inserted only at the end of sentences. But the best presentational style is a relaxed conversational style, because that’s when you allow your personality to come through. And guess what? When we speak in relaxed conversation, we use imperfect grammar, incomplete sentences and pause in all sorts of odd places. Don’t believe me? Check out any speech by Barack Obama.
  5. Speaking to 100 people is fundamentally different from speaking to 1 – Also false. Once you accept that your best presentational style is a conversational style, you will quickly realise that good delivery is good delivery, regardless of the size of your audience.

BIO: Delia Lloyd is an adviser with Clearwater Advisers. Clearwater helps clients sell their vision and win pitches. Our clients gain confidence and clarity in their communication skills, whether they are preparing for a job interview, delivering an informal presentation or giving a keynote speech.