5 Public Speaking Myths Debunked
These 5 Myths Making Public Speaking More Scary than It Needs to Be. Let’s debunk them and fill your brain with 5 actionable keys for speaking success!
Your big speech is coming up. It’s a big moment and you want to thrive. Dig you. However, because you’re human, you’re nervous about it.
First, let me share, this is completely normal.
Maybe you’ve heard that public speaking is arguably the #1 ranked fear of all human beings, greater than that of death, heights, or big scary monsters.
A recent study at Chapman indicates that public speaking, while not a fear for all people, certainly causes many anxiety and fear.
My take is different. I think public speaking is scary for everyone, but many just don’t want to admit it.
Regardless, one of the big reasons you fear public speaking is because a lot of BAD advice has been given on this topic.
Many of the “techniques” you’ve heard of aren’t just outdated, they’re actually working against you! As you’ll see here, new studies confirm this.
Luckily for you, this article will debunk 5 myths that are causing you unnecessary fear! After reading this article, you’ll be more confident, better prepared, and less concerned about giving your next speech.
You’re about to learn some powerful, cutting edge strategies you can use in your next speech.
Ready? Let’s begin.
Myth #1: You Should Calm Down & Relax Before You Speak
Trying to calm down before your speech, by using relaxation techniques and calming mantras or affirmations, despite still being taught by “professionals,” is an ineffective strategy. This old-school approach of trying to talk your way into calmness just before your speech simply doesn’t work as well as it’s oppositional method, as you’re about to see.
What you’re far better off doing is embracing the nerves and the butterflies you get before you speak. New research at Harvard shows this. Despite 91% of her class believing that calming down before a speech would be more effective than feeling excited, Dr. Brooks, a psychology professor at Harvard, found the opposite was true.
In her study, test subjects either had to 1) passionately sing the lyrics of Don’t Stop Believing’ to a stranger or 2) give a recorded 2-minute persuasive public speech that was to be “judged later by a committee.” Both conditions were designed specifically to make these experiences anxiety provoking for the test subjects (lucky them!).
In the speaking task, half of the subjects were told to either tell themselves, “I am calm,” the traditional advice given to speakers. Then, the other half were told to affirm to themselves, “I am excited.” After conducting this study, what Dr. Brooks found was shocking.
Members of the speaking group who told themselves, “I am excited” before speaking were rated by observers as being significantly more persuasive, confident, persistent, and competent than the members of the “calm down” group.
Significantly more persuasive. More Confident. More competent. They also spoke for a longer duration. You can see all of this below, you’re into exploring colorless, factual academic graphs.
Embracing nerves appears to be more effective than trying to calm down. This would be a huge finding for speakers.
And it is, because this one finding is just the tip of the iceberg.
Reviewing the singing singing group for that same study now, individuals who told themselves “I am excited,” recited the lyrics of the song at over a 27% greater accuracy than those told to say to themselves, “I am anxious.”
Indeed, there’s a ton of evidence to suggest that embracing the excitement of pre-performance nerves improves how well we perform in all of our biggest moments, both speaking and otherwise.
One study at University of Lisbon found that when students embraced anxiety, and viewed it as helpful, as opposed to trying to reduce it’s effects, they felt less emotional exhaustion and earned higher test scores as well as improved G.P.A.’s versus their peers who were not given any advice regarding their anxiety.
Furthermore, yet another recent study done by different Harvard researchers essentially found the same thing: that embracing anxiety leads to a plethora of positive outcomes.
Carl Yung, the recognized psychologist, wisely shared a piece of wisdom you’d be wise to recall before your next speech.
“Whatever you resist, not only persists, but grows in size.”
The is clear. Don’t resist the nerves, embrace them.
You may be wondering then… why are many experts still telling their clients to try to relax and alleviate their nerves before their speeches…?
My guess is because they haven’t dug into this new, cutting edge research. Each of these findings you just learned about was published in 2012 or later.
Alia Crum, a researcher from Columbia, adds to the list of researchers who’ve recently confirmed the same finding: that embracing anxiety is more effective than trying to minimize it. You can see her TED talk regarding this, here.
This is a new, powerful shift, and now, you get to benefit from it.
In short, the takeaway here is this: When you feel anxious nerves or “butterflies” before your speech, embrace them! It’s normal that you’re nervous!
Myth #2: Audiences Want You to Fail
Most of us are falsely programmed with this idea that when we go up to speak, everyone in the audience is just waiting for us to fumble our words and crumble! It’s easy to see the people in the crowd as circling sharks, hungrily waiting for you, the speaker, to make a false move, so they can attack.
In actuality, nothing can be further from the truth.
As Natalie Sisson, a contributor for Forbes, logically points out, “Time is valuable, the audience isn’t there to watch you fail, as that would be an inefficient use of their time.”
Dr. Lapakko shares a similar point of view in his book, “Argumentation: Critical Thinking in Action,” where he writes, “It’s been my experience that 99% of audiences want you to succeed and really are not out to get you.”
You’ll find the same to be true as you gain experience as a speaker. One reason why you may mistakenly believe that audiences want to filet you when you speak is this:
Political candidates and elected politicians are the most visible public speakers in our society, and we have a bad taste in our mouths about politicians.
A 2014 poll estimates that 75% of Americans believe politicians are corrupt and 70% of Americans feel that politicians use political power to hurt their enemies.
Do you agree with the majority? Playing the numbers, I bet you do.
This is one major reason why you may have mistakenly believed that audiences want you to fail. But you aren’t a shady politician.You’re a good person with a genuine message, right?
By simply being authentic and honest, you’ll do more than enough to evoke the support of your audience.
As I share with those I serve, “When you see more of the good that rests in others, they’ll see more of the good that rests in you.”
Here’s the biggest takeaway: By focusing on the audience and how you can best serve them, as opposed to over-emphasizing how you’ll come across, they’ll see you in the best light possible
Focus on them, not on you. It’s their speech, you’re just the messenger.
Myth #3: Great Speakers Don’t Experience Anxiety
“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.” –Mark Twain.
Are you under the belief that great speakers don’t experience nerves? This myth is probably the greatest cause of fear among new speakers. One weakness of all human beings is our inability accurately predict the internal experience of another individual. This is a well known principle termed by psychologists as the fundamental attribution error.
What you’ve probably done subconsciously to promote this myth is this:
You see a great speaker. She’s composed and articulate and funny. She looks so cool, calm, and composed.
Logically then, you assume that she doesn’t experience anxiety. She must not experience anxiety before she speaks, because if she did, how could she be so funny and smart and calm and collected?
Well… probably because she knows the truth we busted open in myth number one! Many of us falsely believe that great speakers don’t experience nerves, when the truth is that they absolutely do!
Jerry Seinfeld, the great comedian, shared that, “You’re never really comfortable [on stage].”
What speakers like Twain and performers like Seinfeld do to thrive is this: they learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable.
How do you become comfortable being uncomfortable? Practice.
The wealthiest man in the world, Warren Buffet, knows all about the battle towards gaining comfort in the uncomfortable. He experienced intense trepidation before speaking, as he shares here.
Yet he knew that speaking is important. Buffet explains, “If you can’t communicate and talk to other people and get across your ideas, you’re giving up your potential.”
The truth is that great speakers, by repetitive practice, develop the skill of feeding off of their nerves.
They see their nerves as energy & excitement.
Indeed, skilled speakers have simply learned to embrace the butterflies they get. They’ve learned to embrace what researchers refer to as the “excite and delight” response, which is similar to the feeling you get when you zoom down the tracks of a rollercoaster!
Never think great speakers don’t experience nerves. All speakers do. Remember the wisdom of Mark Twain.
“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
Take comfort in this simple truth.
Myth #4: Feeling Stress Before Your Speech Leads to Choking
Here’s the truth that I share with clientele of mine: Stress itself will never lead to you choking. However, stressing about your natural stress response absolutely can.
Luckily, like anxiety, stress itself is actually advantageous.
The key, again, just like anxiety, is to embrace the sensations of stress before your big speech. Luckily, there are great reasons to do so.
Firstly, embracing your stress response makes scientific sense. Your stress response helps your heart pump blood more efficiently to your vital organs by dilating your blood vessels.
Your stress response also deepens your breathing, so that your brain and body are properly oxygenated. This facilitates improved focus and heightened awareness, both of which help a speaker perform closer to her best.
This is all documented by Dr. McGonigal, a health psychologist from Stanford, in her profound book, “The Upside of Stress.”
Dr. McGonigal also shares how oxytocin, a neuro-hormone that binds to our hearts, is released at much higher levels, when we are stressed. Oxytocin, Dr. McGonigal explains in her profound TED talk, is shown to increase social acuity and it helps us build rapport more easily with other human beings.
Wait. Did you catch that? When we’re stressed, we literally are pumped with a chemical (oxytocin) that helps us better connect with others, become more friendly, and access our most social state!
This is the next major reason why embracing stress makes sense.
Do you think being more friendly, relatable, and social may help you give a more effective speech?
And here’s the point I want you to remember when you feel stress before your speech: oxytocin is released at it’s highest levels when you’re stressed…
You can clearly see why it is a MYTH that stress leads to choking! Stress, especially when welcomed, accesses our most social selves!
What you want to do in the moments before you speak is take note of your faster heart rate, quickened breathing, and clammy palms. Then, remember these sensations are an indication that your stress response is working in your favor!
Embrace these sensations. Know that your faster heart rate is: pumping blood to your vital organs, dilating your blood vessels to pump that blood, increasing the oxygen that’s being sent to your brain, and that oxygen is helping you think more clearly!
Likewise, remember the stress you’re experiencing is causing the release of oxytocin, which is making you even more socially savvy, relatable, and fun to listen to!
And here’s another point you’ll take comfort in.
By correctly viewing stress response as helping you, you cultivate what researchers call a “challenge response.” This challenge response produces increased amounts of endorphins, adrenaline, testosterone, and dopamine.
And when these bodily chemicals are combined, they are shown to increase both confidence and motivation! Indeed, this is the third powerful reason why you’re best off embracing the stress before your next speech.
The takeaway is this: In the moments leading up to your speech, your stress response is your friend.
Embrace the pounding heart. Despite the myths, it’s on your team.
Myth #5: You Need to Memorize Your Speech to Succeed
Question for you.
When you call your bank, would you rather “talk” to an automated system for 15 minutes, or speak directly with a live person?
Would you rather have a conversation over dinner with a human being, or with Siri, the automated voice programed into the iPhone?
The answer is obvious.
And here’s the point: speakers with completely memorized speeches sound more like a robot, a lifeless machine, than they do a living, breathing human-being. They sound like yet another programmed, automated system.
In this day and age, nobody wants to deal with a robot any more than they have to.
So, what does your audience want instead?
A human speaker connecting with them as a (gasp!) fellow human being.
The most effective way to create this real connection with your audience is to refrain from memorizing your whole speech.
Roger Bannister, the first man to ever run a mile under 4 minutes, got this. He shares, “The reason sport is attractive is that it’s filled with reversals. What you think may happen doesn’t happen. A champion is beaten, an unknown becomes a champion.”
It’s the same with speaking. The audience wants the unexpected.
Mohammed Qahtani, The 2015 World Champion of Public Speaking, knows this, too.
He advises you to prepare diligently and practice your speech many times. However, he urges you not to memorize it. Instead, he says, visualize it. You can learn more about his visualization strategy here.
When you visualize, incorporate as many senses as possible. And if you can, go to the site where you’ll be speaking ahead of time, so that you can accurately visualize your performance location in your mind.
Try to feel the emotions of speaking to a live audience too. The more you visualize, the more real the experience will feel, and this feeling is what translates to your live speech.
What Qahtani, as well as countless other successful speakers do, is as follows:
They visualize how they’ll deliver their introduction, they visualize communicating their key points, and they visualize how they’ll finish the speech.
From there, they fill in the gaps during their speeches off the cuff, which opens the door for spontaneity and authenticity.
But how do you get comfortable “filling in the gaps?”
Some people think that not memorizing lines is an invitation to forgo preparation. It’s not.
The key to using this approach, where you do not memorize your speech line for line, is to develop enough confidence and comfortability with your material so that you can discuss your topic and recall specific details easily.
This is possible only when you intimately know your topic.
Spend focused time reviewing your materials. Select the stories you wish to share and visualize them in your mind. Develop your plan, creating the order in which you wish to share your ideas. Then, practice delivering the speech aloud many times, both alone and to your friends and family.
Regarding preparation time, you’d be wise to take the advice of 18th century speaker Wayne Burgraff, who said, “It takes (me) one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.”
Your takeaways here are as follows:
- Prepare with discipline. Know your material. As author and speaking consultant Michael Mescon shares, “(The) best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about.” He’s spot on.
- Visualize your key performance points ahead of time.
- Practice many times. However, do your audience a favor and do not place emphasis on memorizing every line. This will cut your connection with them.
Lastly, take comfort in John Ford’s words, “You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart.”
If all else fails, share from your heart.
Public speaking is a tremendous opportunity, not only to connect with your audience and share your ideas, but also to grow as a human being. Several years ago, without the ideas you are now equipped with, I personally gave a public speech for over two thousand eye balls.
I choked horribly. This is a picture of me, just moments before speaking.
The speech I gave was poor and I was laughed at by members of the audience, a story you can read here.
And do you know what? Looking back, it was one of the most brilliant experiences of my life. It gave me a new sense of ambition, of direction — a new challenge to tackle.
There’s no doubt that your big speech will go better than my first one did. But regardless of outcome, remember to pat yourself on the back afterwards.
And my final invitation to you is this: after you finish this upcoming speech, do whatever you can to give yet another speech, and another, and another, as quickly as possible.
With persistent practice, you will become a powerful public speaker.
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