Does public speaking need to fill us with dread? Nope! Are there some commonly held belief systems that hold us back from sharing our perceptions, ideas, and making an impact? You betcha!
Here are five really unhelpful myths that need to hit the road- now! These beliefs no longer need to stand in the way of your potential. The world needs your voice!
Public Speaking Myth #1 –
It’s really bad if I’m nervous.
Experiencing butterflies, shaky hands, and a racing heart is not bad. It’s actually what you think about these experiences that matters. Judging yourself for being nervous – that’s what feels terrible. “What’s wrong with me? It’s so stupid that I’m sweating so much, I know my topic!” These thoughts don’t help. They’re mean and distracting.
Reassuring yourself is a much better choice. “My face is turning red. Oh well, I look good in red!” “My hands are shaking. It’s okay. I care about my subject. There are things that are at stake, so it makes sense that my body feels very alive right now.” Observe your thoughts when you feel those sensations of stress. If you find yourself getting nervous about being nervous, choose to accept how you feel, rather than fighting how you feel. This will help you stay present (the key to powerful presenting) to what is true in the moment.
Public Speaking Myth #2 –
I can only do a good job if I’m totally calm.
When you go see a performer like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, or Bruce Springsteen, are you excited to see them be relaxed? When you go to a political rally, are you inspired when the speaker is chill?
No! We want to see people who are alive, electric, and dynamic! That’s what engages and moves us. So, while being calm when you are presenting, pitching, or giving a toast may SEEM like a worthy goal, it’s actually not. Being calm may be more comfortable for you, but it won’t serve your audience or the important message you are sharing.
You know what will? Passion. Having passion for your subject matter will connect you to your audience. Passion will help you focus on your mission rather than on yourself. Passion may also lead you to be a little sweaty, your heart beating faster, or your face may turn a pretty shade of pink. It’s okay. You’re alive, championing something. And that’s really cool. Dig deep and remember WHY your talk is important. This will fuel your passion!
Public Speaking Myth #3-
I have to get comfortable being the center of attention.
Many people hate being the center of attention. Let’s really examine this phrase, “center of attention.”
When you are up in front giving a talk or toast, yes, you are in the center of your audience’s attention. But, if you focus on serving your audience’s needs with your message, the audience becomes the center of your attention.
The nightmare begins when you make yourself the center of your own attention. When you focus on your shaky voice, your sweaty palms, and your butterflies, it becomes very difficult to concentrate and coherently get your points across.
Decide that the presentation is actually not about you. You are there to serve your audience. Focus on how your message meets their needs. Get yourself out of the center of your own attention. It’s not about you!
Make your mission and your audience your focus.
Public Speaking Myth #4 –
I’m an introvert, so there’s no way I can be good at public speaking.
Many actors who deliver riveting performances are introverts. There’s no reason an introvert can’t be a powerful speaker and actually enjoy the experience.
For those whose emotional and intellectual batteries are better charged when they are alone, learning how to handle the stimulus in the room will be really helpful. When we are interacting with someone one-on-one, we tune into the other person’s energy – their mood, their body language, their tone, and their actual words. Once we are in front of a group, tuning into each individual’s energy has the potential to be overwhelming, draining, confusing and distracting. Do we want to take note of our audience’s vibe and responses? Of course. Do we need to take them personally? No.
We all have a lot going on in our complicated lives. One moment we can be having a great day, two seconds later we receive a text message that throws us for a loop or read a news headline that’s really shocking or disheartening. We need to remember that our audience’s moods may be all over the place when we take the stage. Attempting to tune into each individual’s energy will not serve you. Nor will deciding that a depressed look or distracted behavior is your fault or has much to do with you at all.
Instead, enter the stage or the room with a desire to share positive energy. Be a beacon with your message. Stand tall, take up space, and allow your mission to help you and your audience rise above the chatter and noise of their minds, moods, and smartphones. You don’t go to GET a presentation, pitch, or toast. You go to GIVE one. Focus on being generous and expansive.
Public Speaking Myth #5 –
Some people are naturals. Then there’s the rest of us who muddle through, excited to “just get it over with”.
Yes, some people seem to have charisma galore and love being up on stage. Some of those folks may be naturals but some may have worked incredibly hard on their message and their style.
It takes time and effort to create a talk, toast, or pitch that brings the audience on an exciting and inspiring journey. After investing time into the writing process, the rehearsal process begins! During this often neglected yet crucial stage, the presenter can experiment with how to express their ideas in the most creative way possible – using pauses, changes in volume, pitch, and pace to create a worthwhile experience for their audience.
Instead of attributing a great presentation to natural ability, set yourself up for success by putting time into your preparation. Practice by yourself and in front of a trusted and supportive group. The ideas or cause you are trying to advance are worth it. You’ll find that the more you rehearse and hone your skills in a deliberate way, the more natural the process will become to you. Then, you will begin to feel like and appear like a….natural public speaker!
This guest post was authored by Amanda Hennessey
Amanda Hennessey is the founder of Boston Public Speaking and San Diego Public Speaking, where her innovative strategies give people confidence and charisma through finding their own unique voice. For over a decade, she has empowered individuals, including CEOs, scientists, students, executives, entrepreneurs, activists, chefs, doctors, and even a top dog trainer, to shift from fearful to fierce. She has clients that have appeared on Dr. Oz, Today, and more.
Currently, Amanda leads public speaking workshops across the country, working with individuals and organizations, including Boston Children’s Hospital, MIT, Simmons School of Social Work, and Petco. She taught acting at Boston University’s Department of Film and Television and at New York Film Academy. Amanda received her MFA at the Actors Studio Drama School and went on to act in films, plays, and commercials. She is a co-founder of Boston Acting Classes, where she teaches with her husband, Art Hennessey. Your Guide to Public Speaking: Build Your Confidence, Find Your Voice, and Inspire Your Audience (Adams Media; May 14, 2019) is her first book.