If you have ever had to make an important presentation or a big pitch, you will have had words of wisdom showered upon you.
Although well-intentioned, much of that advice however is misguided, so we asked Anthony Garvey of Toastmasters International to reveal the most common myths when it comes to public speaking and presenting.
By taking heed of these lessons you will represent your startup or small business well every time you present and make the impact you are looking for.
Myth 1 – Everyone will see I’m shaking like a leaf
This may be hard to believe, but people cannot see how nervous you are. Honestly!
Resist the temptation to announce: “I’m not very good at public speaking”, which quickly gives the game away. The audience don’t need to know.
Equally, refrain from holding a single sheet of paper, because your hand might tremble which will betray your nerves. Instead put any notes you have down securely on the lectern in front of you. That way you will represent your business well despite any inner nerves.
Myth 2 – A little alcohol will give you the courage you need
Water is the best choice if you have an important speech to deliver.
Too often, at weddings, business lunches or other events, the inexperienced speakers can be seen, swaying gently from side to side and heard, slurring their words, when they have had one drink too many beforehand.
Dutch courage is not needed. Water, not alcohol, not coffee, not high energy drinks, is the safest bet.
Myth 3 – It’s easier to present if you picture the audience in their underwear
Imagining your customers or fellow business owners in their underwear when you are delivering an important presentation will not help you present more effectively. Indeed, it is almost certain to distract you.
Look instead for the smiling supportive faces in the audience of those who are willing your presentation to go well.
Myth 4 – Wearing a brand, new suit will set the right tone for the speech
By all means buy a new suit and new shoes but try them on at home and break them in first, before you deliver an important business presentation. It can be incredibly difficult speaking to the best of your ability, when your suit is stiff as a board and your shoes are squeezing the life out of your feet.
Make sure you feel comfortable and then you will be able to relax and enjoy speaking to your audience.
Myth 5 – I never give presentations
Although you may not stand in front of an audience and deliver a formal presentation, all of us deliver presentations.
Think how you respond when you are asked by your startup partners for a progress report on a project you are working on. This could be at a meeting in front of the wider team or they could be asking you about it privately.
These are mini-presentations and if you know in advance you are likely to be asked to provide an update, a little preparation will go a long, long way.
Myth 6 – Learn your speech off, word for word, like an actor learns their lines
You may want to commit your speech or presentation to memory, but you should resist this temptation. If you must, just learn off the opening 20 seconds and the closing 20 seconds.
If you try and learn the whole speech off, you could forget a sentence or two in the middle and easily get blown off course. This is not what you want to have happen particularly when talking to potential investors or customers!
Myth 7 – Write out your speech in longhand and use your notes extensively
We have all listened grim-faced to presentations where the speaker reads their slides, word-for-word or the presenter reads their speech verbatim from their notes. You cannot connect properly with your audience by doing this.
As a business owner you may well have some tough audiences, but you still need to do everything you can to connect at a personal level. Rather than memorising it is far better is to have a single sheet with a list of words to set you up for certain sections or even better still, use no notes at all.
Myth 8 – Get them rolling in the aisles with a good joke to start
I have seen many presenters deliver a joke at the beginning of their presentations and it rarely works. Someone important might arrive late just when the punchline is delivered or they may not be fully paying attention.
Far better is to have some judiciously chosen humour in the middle of your presentation, once you have gauged the audience and made a judgement call as to their receptivity.
Myth 9 – Plant your feet firmly in one place and don’t move when you speak
If you are delivering a eulogy this is good advice, otherwise I believe hiding behind a lectern stops you from interacting with your audience.
Some of the world’s best speakers move among the spectators when they present – follow the example of world class speakers like Zig Ziglar, Les Brown and Tony Robbins for example.
Movement is freedom and you can use body langauge to help you connect with your audience.
Myth 10 – Don’t use your hands when you speak
If you study the world’s best speakers, for example, the Toastmasters International World Champions of Public Speaking, you will see they use their hands extensively when they speak.
Similarly if you watch dynamic, expressive politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, they use plenty of body language when they communicate.
It’s all part of the secret sauce that helps your audience remember your message. This applies as much to a business audiences as it does to any other.
Myth 11 – Great presenters don’t prepare, they use impromptu speaking
Billy Connolly, one of the world’s best comedians, said he never prepared any of his comedy sessions and would let the audience guide him on his humorous journey. But for the rest of us mere mortals, preparation is essential.
Once you are prepared, the trick is to make it appear as if the speech you are giving is ‘off the cuff’.
Author Mark Twain once said, “It takes about two weeks to give a good impromptu speech.” These sentiments are spot on.
After all, you will have certain things you want to say regularly about your business so this should be easily achievable.
Myth 12 – It can take years to become a good presenter and public speaker
What it takes is practice, practice, and more practice.
You don’t turn up at the swimming pool on your first day and throw yourself in at the deep end. You take lessons, you learn technique, you practice. It’s the same with business presenting.
Pop along to your local Toastmaster club, where you can practice speaking in a positive and encouraging environment. A warm welcome awaits and they will be delighted to meet you.
I hope that debunking these myths of presenting will help you to both improve your public speaking and enjoy the experience. This is a vital skill for all small business owners so keep working at it. Your business will benefit from your enhanced abilities and confidence.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Anthony Garvey, a member of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches communication and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. With 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland, you can find your local club at www.toastmasters.org
More help on perfecting presentations, pitches and talks
You can find lots more tips to help you deliver winning presentations, pitches and and talks in these other ByteStart guides;
- The 3 Golden Principles of Public Speaking
- How ‘Digital UX’ Rules Can Help You Write a Better Speech
- How to Deliver ‘Rocking’ Presentations & Pitches that Will Captivate Your Audience
- Harness the “Power of Three” to Nail Your Pitch
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- How to get more out of your networking than passable plonk canapés
- The “Magic 10” Tips on networking – how the experts build great networks
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