For many of us standing up in front of an audience is our worst nightmare. We dread the thought of finding ourselves in the spotlight, the moment when all of a sudden we become the centre of attention. However, for most of us giving presentations, providing updates or speaking to groups is a necessary part of our jobs. So, when the nerves kick in and we’d rather be anywhere else, we’d do well to remember that many of the things we are worried about are just myths and that the reality is somewhat different…
Myth #1 – My subject matter isn’t interesting
The Reality – If you’re bored by your topic your audience will be too. It’s your duty as a presenter to find an interesting angle and then to work hard to get people to engage. The people listening to you are desperate for what you’re talking about to be relevant and useful to them. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes – when have you ever gone to a meeting or a conference and thought to yourself, “I hope the next two hours are a complete waste of my time”? I’m guessing you haven’t! If you get excited by your subject matter, your audience will too.
Myth #2 – If I forget what’s next I’ll look stupid
The Reality – Unless you’re a politician and have published your speech to the media before you have given it, no one in your audience has any idea what is going to come out of your mouth next. If you forget to say something, they will be oblivious… Unless you tell them! I coach the people that I work with to “pack a parachute”, to decide in advance what they will do if things go wrong. Will you recap? Ask a question? Pause and take a sip of water? Whatever you do the key is to stay calm. I don’t know of any audience that has booed a presenter off the stage for walking over to the podium and glancing at their notes!
Myth #3 – I’m an introvert so I’ll never be a good presenter
The Reality – You don’t have to be a showman to be a good presenter. In fact, I often have to work with extroverts to calm their performances down. The most important thing when presenting is to be authentic. If you’re not someone who normally bounds around a room gesticulating wildly then it would seem very out of character if you did that on stage. If you tend to be more introvert, the thing to focus on is your desire to share your material. Work to connect with your audience and share your message. Calm gravitas is just as impressive as infectious energy.
Myth #4 – I need lots of complex slides to keep people’s attention
The Reality – Your audience has come to see and to listen to you, not to read your slide deck. If letting them read the information on the screen is the purpose of the meeting or the presentation it’s probably best just to send an email! You should see your slides as a backdrop, something that supports your message, not defines it. Tell stories and use images. People are much more likely to remember what you said if they can connect it to a poignant picture than if it is connected to three bullet points and a pie chart! In the world of slides, less is most definitely more.
Myth #5 – If I hold onto the lectern people won’t see that I’m nervous
The Reality – When you stand in front of an audience there is nowhere to hide. It’s a very vulnerable position. However, with vulnerability comes strength. Whilst gripping tightly to the furniture may make you feel better, it sends an instant message to your audience that you are nervous. Relaxing the body also relaxes the mind. The more you can step out onto stage and connect with your audience, the more confident you will feel and the more confident you will appear.
These five myths can all hold us back from delivering a star performance. Remember the reality next time you take centre stage and all of a sudden public speaking becomes a whole lot easier!
Do you know of any other public speaking myths? I’d love to hear them in the comments box below.