In this session, I'm going to debunk a few of the biggest myths about public speaking. Perhaps by identifying a few of these myths, you can reduce some presentation nervousness.
The Top Five (5) Biggest Myths about Public Speaking Fear and Stage Fright Debunked
Myth #1: Good Speakers have a Natural Talent (Born Speakers)
This one always makes me laugh because no one comes out of the womb speaking. Now, granted, if you have a nice sounding voice, you might have an advantage in front of a group. However, most great speakers become great at presenting because they really work at it. Every great speaker started out as a bad, or at least a mediocre, speaker.
The real secret is that public speaking is an EASY skill to master if you practice the right way. However, instead of doing things to decrease their nervousness, most new speakers work really hard to try to hide their nervousness.
Motivational speaker Brian Tracy, wrote an article about what he learned from his speaking career. One of the major things that he learned as a professional speaker is that you have to train to be a speaker. His advice is to go out and give "(Many) presentations as hard and as fast as you can".
If you want to be a good presenter, you really have to practice. In fact, that is one of the main reasons that our presentation skills classes are so popular. Our class sizes are small. As a result, each participant gets to deliver at least eight presentations in just two days. This fast pace helps the presenter establish good habits and experience a series of successful speeches in a short period of time. Now, you don't have to necessarily attend a public speaking class to get practice. They are just very convenient and quick options for reducing public speaking fear.
Myth #2: I'm Way More Nervous than Everyone Else
Surveys show that at least 90% of the population admits to feeling public speaking fear or stage fright. Surveys also show that over 45% of the population admit that the stage fright that they feel is so great that they avoid opportunities to present in front of groups.
One of the first myths about public speaking that we debunk in class is the audience sees your nervousness. The opposite is true. Most of the stuff that happens to us when we get nervous is invisible to the audience. For example, just before we start to speak, most of us will start to feel our heart beating more quickly and forcefully. In addition, some people will get sweaty palms or feel the butterflies in their stomach. Or, we might feel light-headed or even lose our train of thought.
What do all of these things have in common? They are things that we FEEL, but are absolutely transparent to the audience.
The problem that typically occurs, though, is that when we feel these symptoms of nervousness, we sometimes panic. As a result, we might begin to feel even more nervous. What you want to remember is that other people who are presenting feel nervous too. You're not alone. So when you feel nervous, you most likely aren't looking any more nervous than everyone else. No need to feel like everyone is judging you.
Your Audience Won't Necessarily See Your Fear Any More than You See the Fear in Other Speakers
I got nominated for a marketing award a few years ago. To win, I had to compete against five other professional speakers and persuade the audience to vote for me. I was honored. It also sounded like a lot of fun. So, I was really looking forward to the challenge.
As the time approached, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was the only one of the nominees who specialized in public speaking fear. If I got on stage and looked as nervous as I was feeling... my career was over! Panic began to set in, and I started looking for some way to get out of this without embarrassing myself.
The moment arrived. I was the third of six presenters. Each of us was seated at the front table in the auditorium. The first and second presenters were people that I had never heard of, but they both got up and did excellent jobs. While the second speaker was presenting, I looked to my right, and I was surprised because I was the only one still sitting at the table. Scanning the room, I saw the other speaker in the dark area, way off to the right, next to the accordion wall. They were each pacing back and forth. They were nervous, and they were looking for some way to release that pent up nervousness.
All of the sudden, a calm came over me. I thought, "Well, at least I'm not doing that." I knew that I was prepared and that I didn't need to rush to the side of the room for last-minute cramming. My true confidence came back. Although we were all nervous, no one in the audience ever knew.
Myth About Public Speaking #3: Constructive Criticism is the Best Way to Improve
Ever since that first oral report in high school, we've been told that constructive criticism will improve the way that we speak in front of groups. It was reinforced in speech class, communications class, or whatever your High School or University called it. It was also reinforced again when we went to that Toastmasters group and the grammarian and another speaker-in-training gave us constructive feedback.
However, this particular technique has never, ever worked. Here's why. The only way to get constructive criticism is to first have a failure -- and if you don't have a failure, then the job of the critic is to find something wrong with what you did.
Anytime we do something for the first time and have a failure, we get more nervous the next time that we attempt it. (That is if we have the courage to even try again.) A good coach won't use this technique much. Instead, the coach will show the person how to succeed in public speaking, and then praise the presenter as he/she moves toward that goal. (For more details on this, access How to Scare the Gooey Out of a New Presenter.)
Being a Critic Versus Being a Coach
One of the things that I've noticed is that, on these shows, there will often be three judges. If the judges like the dish, two of them will give a compliment to the contestant. However, no matter how good two of the judges think that the dish is, at least one of the judges will criticize the dish. (I guess that makes for great TV.) My point is that no matter how well something is done if you ask someone to be a critic, he or she will always be able to find something wrong.
The old adage is, "Nobody's perfect." Since we know this, we can always find something to criticize. And every time that we do, we will be harming the confidence of that person.
I'd much rather see Gordon Ramsey watching the participant as he/she cooks. When he sees the person about to make a mistake, go over and offer a piece of advice that will keep the person from failing in the first place. (By the way, I do see him doing that quite often.) The other contestants (and the people at home) will see this little bit of proactive coaching. So, if they are faced with a similar situation, the people watching and listening will now know how to handle it. That is the difference between being a coach and being a critic. Coaches help people succeed, while critics wait for the person to fail so that they can critique the person.
Myth #4: Video Feedback for Presentation Skills Training Will Make You Less Nervous.
This is one of the biggest and most detrimental public speaking myths out there. If you are already nervous and you watch yourself on video, you will likely make yourself more nervous. Video feedback of your presentation can be valuable. However, it is best used as a technique for fine-tuning a presentation. It is a terrible way to reduce nervousness.
If, however, you get a good speaking coach and you watch your video together, your coach will help you see improvements along the way. This will improve your confidence exponentially. Most of us are very critical of ourselves, so we will nit-pick our presentation nine ways to Sunday if we review it alone. So get a good coach before you start trying to use video feedback as a tool.
Myth About Public Speaking #5: It Takes Years to Become a Great Speaker
Public Speaking is just like any other skill in that when you practice and have a success, you feel more confident about yourself. You also get better each time you have a success. So the key to becoming a great speaker fast is to have a series of successes quickly.
If you want to gain presentation skills quickly, find a way to deliver four to six presentations with a really good coach in a short period of time. Ideally, if you can do it in a couple of days, you'll grow quickly. However, I've seen people have a lot of success by setting up a series of weekly speeches at the office or as a guest speaker at a Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce meeting to get practice.
The truth is that the time it will take you to become a great speaker depends entirely on how many times and how often you speak. It also depends on how many successes you can string together. If you speak 20 times in six months, you will definitely be more confident at the end of that time. If it takes you 20 years, you probably won't be. Again, though, that is one of the reasons why people come to a Fearless Presentations ® presentation skills class. Since participants can give so many speeches in such a compressed time period, it's literally like using a trampoline to dunk a basketball.
If We Used "Normal" Presentation Skills Teaching to Develop Other Important Skills
What would happen if we used the public speaking trainer technique to teach teenagers how to drive? You can insert any skill into this example, by the way. It would be equally ridiculous to teach a kid to ride a bike this way. If you used the technique to teach an employee how to use a machine, you'd likely get poor results as well. For some reason, though, we hear these myths in public speaking and totally believe them.
Myth #1: Good Drivers have a Natural Talent.
If we sent every 16-year-old kid out onto the freeway with no training. A few of them might do well, but most are going to have crashing failures. The few that do well will be seen as "Born Drivers," but the rest would be scared spitless of driving.
Myth #2: I'm More Nervous than Everyone Else.
If you're one of the 90% who had a failure on the freeway, but you still see a lot of people driving, you might believe you are the only one who is scared.
Myth #3: Constructive Criticism is the Best Way to Gain Confidence.
Again, you're still one of the 90% who just had the hair-raising experience on the freeway. Now you sit down in a classroom as one of your peers (or a teacher) rips apart your experience and tells you every little thing that you did wrong. Feeling better about the experience now?
Myth #4: Video Tape Feedback for Driving is Valuable.
Now you go back and watch the video of your fiery crash. I wouldn't blame you if you never drove again.
Myth #5: It Takes Years to Become a Great Driver.
If, after you had the above experience, you only attempted to drive once every three months or so for about two minutes at a time, guess what? It will take a LOOOOOONG time to get better. Sadly, you probably never will.
Instead, get a good coach who you trust and conquer the fear now. When you were 15 or 16 years old, you probably took driver's education. Remember the techniques that your teacher used back then? You got a little training and practiced with a coach right away. The coach didn't allow you to move on until you had a success. Remember, you couldn't leave the school parking lot until you got really good at pulling in and out of a parking space.
A good public speaking coach can do the same for you.