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5 myths we believe that keep us from becoming brilliant speakers

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My time helping business leaders and professionals improve their public speaking and presentation skills have brought me great pleasure. It’s thrilling to see people who were once shy and who never thought they could do it, shine in front of a room, exemplifying inspiring leadership and communication.

There are some others who are very sceptical of the idea of speaking in front of people. The very thought of it scares them.

Time and time again I encounter individuals at networking events who are funny, brilliant and hard-working. They’ll say something like, “public speaking isn’t for me” or “I could never do that”.

Perhaps to those around them, and most importantly themselves, they sabotage and undermine their leadership and influence by admitting these excuses and believing these myths.

I’m going to explore some of these today, and counter them with what I hope are far more empowering possibilities:

MYTH 1: “Oh I hate public speaking, I’m not good at it”

No-one is born a proficient public speaker, despite what you may hear of babies speaking and laughing as they’ve left the womb. Everyone starts somewhere – for me, it was reading a personal story aloud in primary school – for others, in front of their classmate in college, and for some, at a wedding or birthday.

As soon as you confess your hatred for a subject matter, every part of your being wants to avoid it.

These sorts of disempowering statements won’t help anyone, least yourself, so it’s better to confess something that sounds more empowering.

It’s better to tell ourselves, “I’m getting better at public speaking”, or “I am confident I can deliver practical value to my audience”, rather than the lazy ‘I’m just not good at it’.

You’ll be surprised what we can achieve when we paint a better picture of our reality with our words.

MYTH 2: “I’m introverted and I don’t have the gift of the gab”

Introverts, extroverts and ambiverts can all thrive when they’re presenting.

As far as I know, the best communicators are quite introverted and don’t desire high social stimulation. In fact, introverts can be detail-oriented and often place a high value on accuracy and precision. Extroverts can work a room and bring charisma and character.

I’m highly generalising here, however, everyone, regardless of their personality type, has presentation strengths that are unique. For introverted types, your ability to focus, concentrate and care for your subject matter is a superhero gift when it comes to preparation.

When handed the tools and the know-how of preparing a presentation, it’s the introverts who often come out on top come the big day.

MYTH 3: “I’m comfortable in one-on-one conversations, but not in front of a group”

My favourite counter to this line is, “if you can have a conversation, you can deliver a presentation”.

A good presentation is always two-way.

Even though you’re the only one speaking, people are still asking questions to your statements in their minds. When you ask a question to the audience, people will answer in their minds too.

When members of an audience check out, in their own minds, the presenter hasn’t adequately answered objections or has kept them engaged long enough to sustain meaningful attention.

I had one gentleman who struggled to keep his eyes open whilst I was delivering a talk. A couple of days, I called him up and he told me he had no sleep the night before because his kids were up all night with illness. No suave presentation trickery nor charisma would have changed it for him. If it were me in his shoes, I’d probably do the same!

Nevertheless, it’s important to believe that I’m not delivering one presentation to many people, it’s that I’m delivering my presentation to one person, many times.

This changes the way we engage with our audience, because we won’t treat them as a group – we’ll treat them individually.

This means holding meaningful eye contact throughout the course of the presentation with certain individuals, and addressing the audience as ‘you’, instead of ‘all of you’. (eg. It’s great to see you today vs. it’s great to see all of you today).

MYTH 4: “Everyone in the audience wants me to fail”

It may be true that there may be some objectors to your content or even to yourself. There are few instances where this happens, perhaps at a protest march, televised debate or drunken pub for a comedy set. However I’d say with the vast majority of presentations delivered, they’re given in front of favourable audiences.

Relax. No-one’s waiting with tomatoes. If they were, they’d have to clean up the mess.

The vast majority of people in the room want you to succeed. Your success is their success. Otherwise they wouldn’t have wasted their time turning up.

You’ve got to believe that what you have to share with them today will help and give them value. Or at least, your sharing will confirm what they already know and are already achieving.

MYTH 5: “Speaking is futile. It’s not like all of them will do as I say”

It’s true that if we implemented everything that was told to us, we’d be robots. If members of our audience choose not move on a call to action, the request may not be of the right timing for them, nor applicable to their situation. It’s hardly ever a personal vendetta against you.

If the content is meaningful to the audience, it’s up to them how they’ll respond. The messenger never deserves to get shot.

A bad presentation (in your eyes) doesn’t define your value as a person.

I once delivered a talk that I feel did not resonate with the audience. Naturally, I felt deflated straight after. However the day after, I had received a text sharing how an off the cuff anecdote helped them see the world in a new light. Now if that’s not a success, I don’t know what is.

As long as you still have a pulse, there’s always another shot to inspire, persuade, entertain and inform.

May you go forth empowered with the knowledge that myths and excuses will only sabotage your speaking and communication journey. Embrace what empowers you and smash it out of the park, tomatoes and all.

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