ECG Principal Lynne Howell Wiklander takes a look at a few myths concerning public speaking and begs you not to fall into their clutches.
The art of public speaking—oration—is grounded in ancient Greece; it was considered such a critical skill for success in public life that tutors educated children in both oratory and rhetoric. We recognize the names of ancient orators such as Aristotle and Cicero; their careful parsings of the art of oration are the foundation of a body of knowledge that continues to grow.
They and other of the Ancients incorporated specific physical techniques, audience understanding, and disciplined revision and rehearsal to communicate successfully. They developed their ability, moreover, through an uncompromising dedication to hard work—not by accidental luck or fortunate nature.
Yet many speakers remain bound by certain myths alleged to be necessary for oratory success. This Speak Previews® busts some of the most popular of them.
MYTH: SOME PEOPLE ARE "NATURALLY COMFORTABLE" ORATORS
Little about public speaking is natural or particularly comfortable. Only through rehearsal and repetition do speakers eventually achieve a level of competence that makes them appear at ease. The more practiced the speaker, the more natural he or she appears, leading the audience to perceive the speaker as relaxed and comfortable.
Speakers adjust to the stress of public speaking by learning to convert disabling feelings of anxiety into positive energy. Even then, however, they are likely to be at least a little nervous or anxious about a presentation.
MYTH: EXTROVERTS ARE BETTER PRESENTERS
Extroversion and introversion describe how a person relates to the external world, but these labels do not define communication capability. Memorable presentations come from being able to relate to the audience. Many of the most admired and sought-after public speakers, persons who excel at connecting with their audiences, are introverts in their private lives.
No matter where you place yourself on the introvert-extrovert continuum, the ability to become an effective orator is within both grasp and reach.
MYTH: REHEARSAL REDUCES SPONTANEITY
Every presentation is a performance. As a professional, you owe each audience your best. Yet without rehearsal, your chance for success is 50/50—not great odds. By rehearsing out loud, internalizing, and using visualization, you train yourself to align vocal qualities with meaning, stay on message, and establish credibility.
MYTH: YOU CAN ONLY EXCEL THROUGH MEMORIZATION
Memorization may actually reduce spontaneity because it entices the speaker to perform as if reading a script. The task is to internalize your messages so that they become a part of you to such an extent that even after an interruption, you can pick up smoothly and continue on. Internalization, not memorization, leads to excellence.
MYTH: ALWAYS START WITH A JOKE
The number of presentations that have been derailed by an inappropriately timed joke is epic. It takes tremendous skill and practice to be humorous—ask any professional comedian. So explore other ways to open your presentation.
There may be occasions suitable to starting with a light-hearted anecdote. But first consider the overall tone and purpose of the presentation as well as the composition of the audience, setting, and cultural expectations.
As you plan and rehearse a presentation, resist the call of these five myths. Your presentation will be stronger for doing so, with better control of material and a seeming ease of delivery.