Public speaking is one of the most powerful leadership instruments to communicate, influence and inspire others.
Because there is so little that is taught or known about public speaking skills, we latch on to any advice that sounds reasonable and might improve our performance on stage.
As a result, there’s no shortage of recommendations - but many of them with similar advice on the subject, just because it’s often repeated, doesn’t mean it’s true.
Myth 1: Don’t Memorize
While you don't need to be a parrot, you still need 80% of your speech memorized for sure. Call it memorising or preparing or whatever you will. There isn't a substitute for knowing your content. If you haven't figured out 80% of your content, don't take the stage - you'll be struggling for words, engage your audience with unnecessary questions, and be full of slur. Yes we need flexibility as a speaker, and 20% flexibility is fine. More than that you'll come across as unprepared, of little value, and unprofessional.
Myth 2: Start With Jokes
Telling a joke that is irrelevant to your talk is a 'reputation' killer. So many speakers have been educated to start with a joke. It rather makes a 'joke' of them.
You have 30 seconds or less when you first walk on stage to establish your credibility. Will your joke help to achieve this or presenting you as a trusted leader in your field?
You need to take control of the stage and your audience with the first few minutes. Its called frame control. If you don't take it, you'll not have for the duration of your talk.
Jokes don't give you frame control - insights do.
Myth 3: Don’t Acknowledge Your Fears
Audiences love honesty. They love someone who comes across as genuine and one among them. There is no harm in sharing your feelings with the audience. In fact it builds a bond. A colleague who’s a co-speaker once forgot her lines in the middle of a talk. She chose to look at the audience, smile and say, "Gosh! I prepared for 25 days and I can't remember my lines."
The audience stood up for her. Laughed with her and almost became her protector.
That allowed her to relax and gave her brain a chance to get back on track and remember her talking points.
Myth 4: Imagine Your Audience As Smaller Than You
Your goal as a speaker is to connect with your audience. There is a lot of advise that goes around suggesting to imagine audience in their underwear, or as ants, or as some other form of fools.
By undermining them your are demeaning them rather than creating a bond.
Instead, really look at your audience as intelligent people while you’re delivering your speech. Smile at them. Make eye contact. Don't operate as 'I know better' -- even though you may, no one wants to learn from a schmuck.
The next time you prepare a talk, remember most time of the talk is spent in its preparation. The focus is always on connecting with the only people that matter: your audience. They will listen to you, follow you, applaud you only when you demonstrate you see them both literally and figuratively.